Travellers from the UK landing at any Indian airport before the flight ban kicks in at midnight Tuesday will have to undergo mandatory RT-PCR tests, based on which institutional quarantine for at least 14 days or monitored home isolation for a week will be advised, civil aviation minister H S Puri tweeted.
Maharashtra went a step further and imposed a 11pm to 6am night curfew within municipal corporation limits across the state from Tuesday till January 5, citing the emergence of the new coronavirus strain. Only emergency services such as transportation and supply of milk and vegetables will be allowed. Christmas and New Year celebrations, large gatherings, parties, functions, shops, hotels and theatres will have to wind up at 11pm. People have been advised to reach home before 11pm and not step out till 6am unless there is an emergency.
Karnataka has made Covid tests mandatory for passengers arriving from Denmark and the Netherlands, too. Everyone with a history of travel from the UK since December 7 will be traced and tested, the state health department said.
In a circular to all airlines, aviation regulator DGCA asked them to strictly adhere to the arrival deadline of 11.59pm on Tuesday for flights from the UK. Air India and Vistara have advanced their Tuesday departures from Mumbai and Delhi by five and 10 hours, respectively, so that these flights can return ahead of the shutdown. Airlines operating between India and other countries are barred from allowing any flyer arriving from the UK to board another flight “either directly or indirectly”, the DGCA said.
Cargo and special flights are exempt from the nine-day suspension for now.
India has had an air-bubble agreement with the UK since international travel resumed, under which four airlines currently operate 67 weekly flights — British Airways (29), Air India (23), Virgin Atlantic (8) and Vistara (7) — between various Indian cities and London. Since all these airlines have flexible Covid-specific booking policies, affected passengers will get the option of refunds or rebooking, sources said.
“We are mainly seeing traffic to India on these flights, and not so much on UK-bound ones. The flyers are mostly expats and Indian students coming home for the holidays,” said a senior official of an international airline.
The decision to suspend flights was taken after Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote to his aviation ministry counterpart P S Kharola on Monday about the new coronavirus strain in the UK. “India has been seeing a sustained decline in the number of fresh Covid cases for over 2.5 months now, accompanied by a decline in the number of deaths. In this scenario, any interjection of (the new virus strain) through passengers with air travel history could pose a risk to pandemic management here,” the health secretary wrote.
Accordingly, the joint monitoring group headed by the director general of health services recommended flight suspension to and from the UK, besides mandatory RT-PCR testing for those arriving from there.
Globally, the list of countries halting travel to and from the UK for varying periods lengthened to over 30 as speculation raged about the mutant coronavirus strain going “out of control” in Britain. Saudi Arabia and Oman went a step further and suspended all international passenger flights for a week starting Monday. Kuwait did so till January 1.
US officials signalled they were holding off on a spoilsport travel ban during the holiday season even as Canada, Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland, Ireland, Poland and Hong Kong stopped travel to and from the UK by air, road and sea, report agencies.
Australian PM Scott Morrison said he was confident existing 14-day quarantine rules for arrivals were sufficient to handle the threat.
The rapid response by most countries thwarted travel around the world just as families were preparing to unite for Christmas. “Please help us leave!” said one British traveller who was among dozens stranded overnight in German airports.
British PM Boris Johnson was to hold a crisis meeting about the situation Monday to discuss “in particular the steady flow of freight into and out of the UK”, a spokesman said.