UK returnees to India test positive for Covid variant, flights suspended

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The Indian government on Wednesday extended the suspension of flights to and from the United Kingdom till January 7 amid alarm over the new highly contagious strain of the coronavirus.

At least 20 people who have returned from the United Kingdom to India have tested positive for the new ‘more infectious’ coronavirus strain.

“Decision has been taken to extend the temporary suspension of flights to and from the UK till 7 January next year. Thereafter, strictly regulated resumption will take place for which details will be announced shortly," aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted.

India had initially banned UK flights on December 23 till the 31st.

Earlier the health ministry said 6 UK returnees were found positive for the mutated variant genome and all had been kept in single room isolation at designated health care facilities by respective state governments and their close contacts have also been put under quarantine.

Between November 25 and December 23 midnight, about 33,000 passengers disembarked at various Indian airports from the UK.

Health authorities said testing people who have specifically returned from the UK may not be enough as the new Covid strain has also spread in many other countries like Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy, and Sweden.

The health ministry in India has now decided to test 5 per cent of all international passengers for the new COVID-19 variant.

“This particular virus strain may have its own run- it has travelled to many countries - so we have to be very careful. Initially, it is easy to suppress the spread of the virus because the chain of transmission is smaller,” said Dr V K Paul, who heads the national Covid task force.

Amid reports of UK returnees testing positive for the new variant of Covid-19, the eastern state of Odisha said that at least 27 residents who returned from the UK in the last month, are untraceable.

Of the 181 passengers who have returned to Odisha from the UK between November 30 and December 21, 154 could be traced.

“Though at least 92 of them had given only their phone numbers and a vague address, we could reach around 65 of them today through persistent efforts,” said director of Public Health, Dr Niranjan Mishra.

Meanwhile, the government has asked all states to keep a strict vigil on New Year celebrations that could be potential COVID-19 super-spreader events and also to curb crowding as a precautionary measure during the winter season.

“You will appreciate that in the wake of New Year and various celebratory events associated with it as well as ongoing winter season, strict vigil is required to be maintained to curb all potential ‘super spreader’ events and places where crowds may gather,” health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said in a letter.

India reported 20,550 new Covid-19 cases, taking the total tally to 10.2 million cases, according to data from the Health Ministry. With 286 deaths in the past 24 hours, the o