India-UK flights to remain suspended till Jan 7: Aviation minister

The government had earlier banned flights between the two countries from December 23 to 31 after a new virulent strain of SARS-CoV-2 was detected in Britain

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Concerned over the detection of the UK strain of COVID-19 in 14 more flyers from the country, the Centre on Wednesday (December 30) extended the ban on passenger flights between Britain and India till January 7 and said flights thereafter will resume in a “strictly regulated” manner.

Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, who made the announcement had hinted at a possible extension of the suspension while speaking to reporters on Tuesday. He, however, had said that the ban would be temporary in nature.

Last week, the ministry had suspended all flights between the European country and India from December 23 to December 31 as a mutated variant of the coronavirus was detected there.

Related news: 14 more UK returnees test positive for new COVID-19 strain; total at 20

Puri’s announcement has come following a recommendation by the Union Health Ministry to extend the suspension of India-UK flights till January 7. “Decision has been taken to extend the temporary suspension of flights to and from the UK till January 7, 2021. Thereafter strictly regulated resumption will take place for which details will be announced shortly,” he said.

Earlier during the day, health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said in a communique to Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola that it is recommending extending temporary suspension of India-UK flights till January 7, “based on the inputs received from the Joint Monitoring Group (JMG) headed by the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) and the National Task Force jointly headed by DG, ICMR and member (Health) NITI Aayog”.

Bhushan also suggested that after January 7, 2021, strictly regulated resumption of limited number of India-UK flights may be considered and the specifics of such a mechanism may be worked out by the Ministry of Civil Aviation in consultation with the Ministry of Health.

A total of 20 people who returned from UK to India, have tested positive for the virulent strain of SARS-CoV-2 so far.

The Health ministry had announced on Tuesday that samples of all international passengers who arrived in India from December 9-22 and tested positive for COVID-19 will be subjected to genome sequencing, which helps in understanding how the new virus variant spreads and evolves.

The presence of the new UK variant of the virus has already been reported by Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore.

Related news: New UK variant of coronavirus: All you need to know

While scheduled international passenger flights remain suspended, airlines have been permitted to operate special international flights under the Vande Bharat Mission since May this year and under the bilateral air bubble pacts since July.

(With inputs from agencies)