The government is fully alert about the new strain of coronavirus reported in the United Kingdom, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said today, stressing "there's no need to panic". India has joined a growing number of countries - Canada, Saudi Arabia, and several European nations - that have temporarily banned flights from the UK over the new virus strain, believed to be 70 per cent more infectious.
"At this time, I would say, don't get hassled with imaginary situations, imaginary talks and imaginary panic. The government is fully alert. In the last one year, as you all have seen, we took all necessary measures to ensure the safety of people. If you ask me, there's no reason to panic so much," the Health Minister told reporters this afternoon at the India Science Festival. He was replying to a question if India is planning to impose a UK travel ban.
The Health Ministry also held a meeting today of its joint monitoring group to discuss the mutant coronavirus. Later, the government tweeted, saying flights to and from the UK have been temporarily banned from tomorrow midnight till December 31.
As a measure of abundant precaution, passengers arriving from UK in all transit flights (flights that have taken off or flights which are reaching India before 22nd Dec at 23.59 hrs) should be subject to mandatory RT-PCR test on arrival at the airports concerned.— MoCA_GoI (@MoCA_GoI) December 21, 2020
Considering the prevailing situation in UK. Govt. of India has decided that all flights originating from UK to India to be suspended till 31st December 2020 (23.59 hours).— MoCA_GoI (@MoCA_GoI) December 21, 2020
Dr Harsh Vardhan's remarks came shortly after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal urged the government in a tweet: "New mutation of corona virus has emerged in UK, which is a super-spreader. I urge central government to ban all flights from UK immediately."
The mutant virus was first detected in southeast England in September. It is quickly becoming the dominant strain in London and other parts of the UK, and has led to surging infection numbers and fresh restrictions, casting a cloud on Christmas celebrations.
On Sunday, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said "the new variant is out of control". However, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said "there's no evidence it causes more severe illness".
Outside Britain, Italy has reported a patient, who had recently returned from the UK, infected with the mutant virus.
The new strain has worried health experts at a time when several nations, including the UK and the United States, have vaccines to boost their fight against Covid.
European Union experts believe existing vaccines against coronavirus are effective against the new fast-spreading strain identified in Britain, Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Sunday, news agency AFP reported.
India's coronavirus cases passed the 1-crore mark on Saturday; 24,337 new cases in the last 24 hours took the tally to 1,00,55,560, the government data showed this morning. Over 1.45 lakh people have died so far.
Worldwide, over 7.68 crore cases have been reported so far; 16.9 lakh people have died.
(With inputs from AFP, Reuters)