India extends UK flight ban over new coronavirus variant as it races to locate previous arrivals

BENGALURU: India has extended until Jan 7 its suspension of flights with Britain, the civil aviation minister said on Wednesday (Dec 30), as the South Asian nation reported 20 cases of a new infectious strain of coronavirus first detected in the United Kingdom.

“Thereafter, strictly regulated resumption will take place for which details will be announced shortly,” Hardeep Singh Puri said on Twitter, declaring the week-long extension.

Indian authorities are racing to track down tens of thousands of people who entered the country from Britain in recent weeks as cases of a fast-spreading coronavirus strain more than doubled in 24 hours.

They have launched efforts to locate around 33,000 people who flew to India in the last month from the UK after 20 people tested positive for the new, more virulent strain – up by 14 cases since Tuesday.

“Comprehensive contact tracing has been initiated for co-travellers, family contacts and others,” the Indian health ministry said Tuesday, referring to those who flew between Nov 25 and Dec 23, when Delhi suspended air links with Britain.

It remains unclear how many arrivals from Britain it has traced so far.

READ: India tests COVID-19 vaccine delivery systems ahead of emergency approval

Britain is home to a huge Indian community and several flights per day take hundreds of people from London to New Delhi and Mumbai.

More than 30 countries have suspended air links with Britain over the new strain, which British medical officials have said is “out of control”.

READ: What we know about the new strain of coronavirus found in Britain

Hardeep has said that any resumption of flights to and from Britain would be “strictly regulated”.

Of the 33,000 passengers to enter the country in the last month, more than 130 people have tested positive for coronavirus.

The cases have been reported across India, but most are in Delhi and Bangalore.

India has the world’s second-highest COVID-19 caseload behind the United States, with more than 10 million infections and 145,000 deaths.

The Indian government has yet to approve any vaccines but hopes to start immunisations early next year.

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