The Centre has extended the ban on UK flights till January 7 and asked all the states to keep a strict vigil on New Year celebrations to check the spread of the new variant of the Covid-19 virus.
So far, 20 cases of the new strain of the virus have been detected in India, and over 30,000 passengers who returned from UK from November 23 onwards are being tracked and tested.
India had earlier suspended flights from UK from December 22 till December 31. The ban has now been extended till January 7 following the advice of the health ministry’s joint monitoring group. India was among the 30 countries that suspended air services to and from UK towards the end of December.
The mutant variant, first detected in UK, is said to be 70 per cent more infectious than other prevailing variants.
The health ministry has also recommended regulated resumption of a limited number of flights from UK after January 7. The civil aviation and health ministries will work out the modalities of that.
Currently, Air India, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Vistara together have over 60 flights between the two countries. Around 45 per cent of these are from Delhi and Mumbai.
The health ministry has also released a standard operating procedure for epidemiological surveillance after the new UK strain was detected in India. This includes tracking and testing of all returnees from UK since November 23. Over 114 of the passengers have since tested positive for Covid-19 and their samples have been sent to laboratories for genome sequencing.
“If the genomic sequencing indicates the presence of new variant of SARS-CoV-2, then the patient shall be kept in the separate isolation unit and treated as per the clinical protocol. All the contacts of such travellers shall be kept in institutional quarantine and tested as per ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) guidelines,” Lav Agarwal, joint secretary of the Union health ministry, said in a letter to state governments today.
Following reports of overcrowding and the risk of spreading as a result of New Year Eve parties, the health ministry has instructed all states to keep a vigil on such events that could become potential super-spreaders of the virus.
The Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) had complained about round-the-clock parties with people not wearing masks or adhering to social distancing norms.
“Several parties are being held in open areas outside bars and restaurants without permission from local authorities. Social distancing norms need to be followed. We hope the government will take action in this matter,” TTAG president Nilesh Shah said.
While the Centre has not restricted inter-state travel, the health ministry has asked the states to assess the local situation and consider imposing necessary restrictions between December 30 and January 1.