India has seen its health system buckle under the strain of a record-breaking wave of infections as it reported around 4,000 deaths each day for nearly two weeks, although daily cases fell slightly on Friday to just over 326,000.
That number is still significantly higher than the then record-breaking 303,000 daily cases seen in the United States in January, as a new variant feared by UK government advisers to be up to 50 per cent more transmissible takes hold – with Britain’s health secretary Matt Hancock warning on Sunday it could “spread like wildfire” among the unvaccinated.
According to the Sun on Sunday, British Airways has reportedly axed night stops in India in a bid to encourage cabin crew to fly there.
The airline’s bosses have been forced to write to frontline staff asking them not to stay away from work, the paper reports.
“If you do not feel comfortable operating these flights then please complete a form and you will be removed,” the letter is quoted as saying.
One anonymous staff member is reported as saying: “Crew are scared of working on the flights.”
In a statement given to The Independent, the airline said: “The safety of our customers and crew is always our top priority, and we follow and comply with all international regulations.”
India was placed on the government’s “red list” for travel on April, meaning that people arriving from the country are forced to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks upon entering the UK.
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However, the prime minister is facing questions over his government’s timing in implementing the highest level of border restrictions with the country, with a four-day delay on the red-list announcement coming into effect – on 23 April – around the same time he was due to visit the country on a trade visit.
The 86 hours of warning prior to the decision compared with almost a week when Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Kenya were added to the red list earlier in April.
With more than 1,300 cases of the Indian variant now identified in the UK, after thousands embarked on flights in those crucial few days, questions were raised again on Saturday over the decision not to put India on the list announced on 2 April along with neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh, where infection rates were lower.
Moments after Mr Johnson warned on Friday that the new variant could cause “serious disruption” to his planned roadmap out of lockdown, minutes from a meeting of the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) underlined the possible threat posed by lifting restrictions in England.
The minutes showed their concerns that in the event of the “realistic possibility” that the variant is 40-50 per cent more transmissible than the Kent variant which drove a wave of deaths earlier this year, proceeding to step 3 of England’s roadmap on Monday will likely “lead to a substantial resurgence of hospitalisations (similar to, or larger than, previous peaks)”.
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