India finds six cases of virus variant, may extend UK flight ban

Shilpa Jamkhandikar
·2-min read
A healthcare worker wearing personal protective equipment collects a swab sample from a BSF soldier in Gandhinagar

By Shilpa Jamkhandikar

MUMBAI (Reuters) -India has found six cases of a more infectious strain of the coronavirus, which has prompted border closures around the world, in people arriving from Britain and will likely extend a flight ban to guard against it, officials said on Tuesday.

All six of the infected people had been kept in isolation, the health ministry said in a statement, adding that their fellow travellers were being traced.

"Their close contacts have also been put under quarantine," the ministry said.

India had suspended all flights from Britain until the end of the month over worry about the infectious variant of the virus but about 33,000 passengers had flown in from late November, before the ban was enforced, the ministry said.

Of those arrivals, 114 people were found positive for the coronavirus and their samples were being checked for the new variant, which has been detected across parts of Europe and Asia, it said.

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said the ban on flights from Britain would probably remain in force into the New Year.

"I foresee a slight extension," Puri told reporters.

"I don't expect that extension to be a long or indefinite extension."

With 10.22 million confirmed infections, India has the second-highest novel coronavirus case load in the world, behind only the United States.

But on Tuesday it reported 16,432 new cases, the lowest daily rise since June 25, the health ministry said.

More than 148,150 people have died of COVID-19 in India, according to ministry data.

Health authorities expect to start a vaccination drive for some 300 million people early next month, with the Serum Institute of India, which is making the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus shot, expecting its emergency approval within days.

(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar in Bengaluru and Devjyot Ghoshal in Kolkata; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Robert Birsel)