India has extended the suspension of flights to and from the UK until January 7 from December 31 in bid to contain the spread of a new, more transmissible strain of the Sars-CoV-2 virus that originated in that country, and at the same time delayed by a month the planned resumption of regular international commercial flights.
A decision has been taken to extend the temporary suspension of flights to and from the UK till 7 January 2021. Thereafter, strictly regulated resumption will take place, for which details will be announced shortly,” civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Twitter on Wednesday.
Flights to and from the UK were suspended on December 23 after the UK government announced the detection of the highly infectious variant of the virus that causes the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). The tighter screening process imposed on the last batch of returnees has already resulted in 20 cases of Covid-19 caused by the variant being detected; other returnees, over the past month, are being traced across India.
Details of the restrictions that will be imposed on India-bound flights from the UK after January 7 are being drafted, Puri wrote on Twitter .
According to officials aware of the development, the government may mandate the Reverse Transcription- Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test for all passengers flying in from the UK after January 7 in addition to mandatory quarantine.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) , the aviation regulator,on Wednesday also extended until January 31 the suspension of regular international flights until January 31.
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India has been operating international flights through special arrangements called transport bubbles reached with 24 countries including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Canada, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Iraq, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, the Maldives, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK and US since suspending scheduled overseas flight operations in March.
Puri had said at a press conference on Tuesday that the suspension of flights to and from the UK was likely to be extended. “I foresee a slight extension of the temporary suspension. I don’t expect that extension to be a long or indefinite extension. In the next day or two, we will find out if any additional steps need to be taken, or when we can start easing the current temporary suspension,” Puri said.
The minister said passengers who arrived from the UK on December 21 and 22 were made to take an RT-PCR test for Covid-19 at the airport, with only those who tested negative being allowed to go home, where they were told to stay in isolation for seven days. Anyone who tested positive was taken to institutional quarantine.