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India suspends flights from UK over new variant of Covid-19

NEW DELHI, Dec 21: India on Monday issued an order to suspend all flights to and from the United Kingdom between December 23 and December 31, joining a host of countries that are also doing so following the discovery of a new variant of the Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), which is believed to spread faster than its previous strains.

The ministry of civil aviation on Monday also noted passengers from all transit flights arriving from UK scheduled to reach India by December 22 will be subjected to mandatory RT-PCR tests on arrival.

“Considering the prevailing situation in UK, the government of India has decided that all flights originating from UK to India shall be temporarily suspended till December 31, 2020 (11.59pm). This suspension will start from 11.59pm, December 22, 2020,” the ministry announced.

“As a measure of precaution, passengers arriving from UK in all transit flights (flights that have taken off or flights which are reaching India before December 22) should be subject to mandatory RT-PCR test on arrival at the airports concerned,” it added.

Union civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri said that passengers who test positive will be sent for institutional quarantine.

“Those found positive on arrival should be sent for institutional quarantine set up by state/UT govts, in collaboration with the states/UTs concerned. Those found negative should be advised to isolate at home for 7 days & will be medically monitored by the States/UTs,” he tweeted.

The decision has been taken amid concerns over a new strain of the coronavirus that is feared to be more contagious, which forced at least five countries on Sunday to ban travel from the United Kingdom, with several others considering similar restrictions.

The new coronavirus variant has prompted the UK government to impose a tier 4 lockdown across the country and tighten restrictions across England, especially during the festival season.

India’s announcement on Monday came after a meeting called by the Joint Monitoring Group (JMG) chaired by the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) to assess the threat from the new variant.

The government may review the suspension period after December.

“ We have imposed a 10-day suspension on flights to and from the UK after a thorough review by the government. We will reassess the suspension period as per the situation prevailing in the country later,” an aviation ministry official said.

The development came days after London confirmed that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had accepted India’s invite to be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi on January 26. The travel curbs also compound problems for the UK as it is finally set to exit the European Union on December 31.

India has been operating international flights through established transport bubbles with 23 countries, including the UK thus far, and the Vande BharatMission since May while regular operations remain suspended since March.

China suspends special flights from India over Covid-19 concerns

BEIJING, Nov 5: China on Thursday indefinitely suspended air travel from India barring non-Chinese flyers to return to the country following a spike in Covid-19 cases in last week’s Vande Bharat Mission (VBM).

While commercial flights between India and China have not resumed, Air India has been operating special rescue flights under the VBM mechanism to different cities of China.

Beijing made similar announcements to bar entry of non-Chinese visitors from Britain, Belgium and the Philippines and demanded travellers from the United States, France and Germany present results of additional health tests as it guards itself against a resurgence in coronavirus cases risingaround the world.

The new suspension order is a partial reversal of an easing on September 28, when Beijing allowed all foreigners with valid residence permits to enter.

China had banned entry of foreigners in response to the epidemic at the end of March.

For India, it means the four VBM flights scheduled every week from November 13th onwards now would have to be rescheduled.

Officials in Beijing say more than 1500 Indians had registered to return to China; Beijing’s new announcement makes their return to China uncertain.

The Chinese foreign ministry defended the decision, saying it was a “reasonable and fair” measure to tackle the pandemic.

“China is drawing on the practices of many countries and adjusting its handling of the entry of the relevant people into China based on the changing pandemic situation,” ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, said at the regular ministry briefing on Thursday.

The India-specific announcement said that neither the Chinese embassy in New Delhi nor consulates in Mumbai and Kolkata would stamp on health certificates furnished by normal passport holders.

“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s hereby announced that China has decided to temporarily suspend the entry into China by foreign nationals in India holding valid Chinese visas or residence permits,” the Chinese government said in an announcement on Thursday.

“The Chinese Embassy/ Consulates in India will not stamp the Health Declaration Forms for the holders of the above-mentioned categories of visa or residence permits,” the statement added.

The Chinese statement clarified that foreigners holding “…Chinese diplomatic, service, courtesy and C visas are not affected.”

“Foreigners with emergency or humanitarian needs to visit China, can submit visa application to the Chinese Embassy/ Consulates in India. The entry into China with visas issued after November 3rd, 2020 is not affected.”

“The suspension is a temporary measurement that China has to adopt to deal with the current pandemic. China will make further adjustment and announcement in accordance with the ongoing pandemic situation in a timely manner,” the statement added.

As many as 23 Covid-19 positive Indians among them 19 asymptomatic carriers of the infection were on board a VBM flight, which landed in the central Chinese city of Wuhan from New Delhi last Friday.

The flight had registered the highest number of infected persons on an Indian rescue flight to China so far.

The large number of cases on the flight – and the high incidence of the disease in India – prompted the Chinese embassy in New Delhi to change pre-boarding Covid-19 testing rules for Indians coming to China on special flights, November 7 onwards.



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