Passengers on flights into the UK from India must now enter hotel quarantine as the country is officially added to the UK’s coronavirus travel red list.
As of 4am on Friday, people returning from India must quarantine in a Government-approved hotel for 10 days, while anyone who is not a UK or Irish resident or a British citizen will be banned from entering the country if they have been in India in the previous 10 days.
Four airlines asked for a total of eight extra flights to arrive at Heathrow before the 4am cut-off; however, it is understood that Heathrow declined the airlines’ requests to ensure existing pressures at the border were not exacerbated.
The restrictions come in response to mounting concern about the number of Covid-19 cases in India and the emergence there of a variant of the virus.
The variant – also known as B.1.617 – was first noted internationally in October and first identified in the UK on February 22.
It has 13 mutations, including two in the virus’s spike protein, known as E494Q and L452R.
Public Health England (PHE) said on Thursday that 55 cases of the Indian variant were found in the UK in the week to April 14.
PHE experts are currently unsure whether any of the mutations mean the variant can be transmitted more easily, is more deadly or can evade the effectiveness of vaccines or natural immunity.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to cancel a trip to India on Monday as the country struggles to cope with a dramatic surge in cases.
On Thursday, India reported more than 314,000 new infections – the worst daily sum of the pandemic anywhere in the world.
Understaffed hospitals are struggling with the number of patients and there are concerns about the supply of oxygen.
Thursday’s cases raised India’s total to above 15.9 million since the pandemic began – the second-highest total in the world after the United States.
The country’s overall coronavirus death toll stands at more than 186,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University’s count.
People who arrived back in the UK from India before the red list change told the BBC they were “so relieved” and felt “very lucky”.
There are 40 countries on the UK red list, including India, Brazil, Kenya, South Africa, and United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The UK Government website says that if you have been in or through any of the red list countries in the previous 10 days, you will be refused entry to the UK.
It adds that if you are a British or Irish national, or you have residence rights in the UK, you will be able to enter but must quarantine in a Government-approved hotel for 10 days.
Anyone arriving in Northern Ireland having been in, or transited through, one of the red list countries must complete the UK passenger locator form, provide evidence of a pre-departure negative Covid-19 test, and from April 16 enter hotel quarantine for 10 days.
The Wales Government website says that from February 15 there is no direct arrival into Wales for travellers who have been in a country on the red list.
Those flying directly to Scotland from abroad need to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days (11 nights) as soon as they arrive.
The Scottish Government website says “abroad” means flying to Scotland from outside the UK (including Northern Ireland), Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.