India will ban all flights to and fro the United Kingdom from 23:59 hours on December 22. This comes hours after Hong Kong made a similar announcement, becoming the first city in Asia to announce such a halt after a new super-virulent strain of the novel coronavirus was identified in Britain.
"Considering the prevailing situation in UK, Govt. of India has decided that all flights originating from UK to India to be suspended till 31st December 2020 (23.59 hours). This suspension to start w.e.f. 23.59 hours, 22nd December 2020. Consequently flights from India to UK shall stand temporarily suspended during above said period," the ministry of civil aviation tweeted.
The central government further said that as a precautionary measure, passengers arriving from UK in all transit flights (flights that have taken off or flights which are reaching India before 22nd Dec at 23.59 hours) will be subject to mandatory RT-PCR test on arrival at the airports concerned.
A number of European nations among others have shut off travel ties to Britain after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the new strain of the coronavirus was a danger to the country.
Britain is one of the 23 countries that India shares an "air bubble" with, as part of temporary bilateral arrangements after regular international flights were suspended after the pandemic hit.
Hours before the aviation ministry's announcement, health minister Harshvardhan said that authorities remained vigilant and prepared to deal with the new virus strain, adding that there was no need to panic.
Other Asian nations, including Japan and South Korea, said they were closely monitoring the new strain, but did not immediately cancel UK flights. Hong Kong will ban travel to and fro Britain from midnight local time on Monday.
The new strain could be up to 70% more infectious, the United Kingdom has said, prompting its European neighbours and several other countries including Canada and Iran to close their doors to travellers from the country.
People arriving into Hong Kong from the United Kingdom prior to Dec. 22 must quarantine for a total of 21 days, versus the previously mandated 14 days of quarantine. Chan said the government was monitoring whether to extend the quarantine duration for all arrivals.
Hong Kong saw a spike in the number of cases at the end of November which prompted authorities to once again shut down dining in restaurants after 6pm and close gyms and beauty salons. The measures will be in place until at least January.