Just hours after the Indian government temporarily banned all flights from the United Kingdom in a bid to stain the emergence of a new and highly infectious strain of the coronavirus in Britain, a Delhi bound flight from London that arrived the same night carrying 266 passengers and crew members onboard, had five among them infected with Covid-19.
Speaking to news agency ANI, the Nodal officer for Covid-19 said that their samples have been sent to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) for research and they have been sent to a care centre.
Mutated strain is more dangerous
Thankfully, India has not yet detected the new strain of coronavirus that has already spread to some parts of the UK and considered to be more infective and almost 70 per cent more transmissible, according to medical experts.
On December 20, Italy detected a patient infected with the new strain of the coronavirus that has been found in Britain, news agency ANI reported quoting the Health Ministry. The patient and his partner returned from the United Kingdom in the last few days, reports said. They reached Rome's Fiumicino airport and are now in isolation.
Britain's European neighbours began closing their doors to travellers from the United Kingdom on Sunday amid alarm about the rapidly spreading strain of coronavirus that has caused cases to soar there.
Experts have further warned that the new strain of the virus may prompt more than 40 nations to suspend flight operations to the west European nation. Other than India, countries including Pakistan, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Russia, Jordan, France, Hong Kong and others have also suspended travel for the UK after Boris Johnson said a mutated variant of the virus had been identified in his country.
Govt alert, no need to panic
On Monday, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan informed the media that the government is alert about the new coronavirus strain in the United Kingdom and that there was no need to panic. The government had done everything that was important to handle the COVID-19 situation in the last one year, the health minister said.
Responding to a question on the panic over the new strain and a demand to ban flights from the UK, Vardhan told reporters, "I would say this to all that all these imaginary situations, imaginary talks, imaginary panic... don't involve yourself in this."
"The government is fully conscious about everything. If you ask me, there is no reason to panic the way we are seeing in this press conference," the minister added.
Considering the prevailing situation in the UK, the Government of India has temporarily suspended all flights from UK, with immediate effect from Tuesday midnight till December 31. In addition, all passengers who arrive in India from the UK till today have further been mandated to get themselves tested.
In a similar situation, two people who arrived from London at Kolkata airport on late Sunday also tested positive for the contagious infection. The officials have said that samples of the infected persons were being analysed by experts to ascertain whether it is the new Covid-19 strain that is believed to spread the infection faster.
Students in UK stranded
Meanwhile, many students from India are stranded in the UK with representative groups coming forward to help them out. "Many students had planned to travel either back to India to be with their families over the holiday period or from India to the UK in order to start settling into the country ahead of the commencement of the January session," Sanam Arora, Chair of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK (NISAU-UK), a representative group for Indian students in the UK, told NDTV.
Vaccines work on new strain
Meanwhile, Pfizer and Moderna are testing their coronavirus vaccines against the new mutated strain of Covdi-19 found in UK and other countries. "Based on the data to date, we expect that the Moderna vaccine-induced immunity would be protective against the variants recently described in the UK," Moderna said in a statement. However, it might take a few weeks to confirm the result.
Pfizer said it is also working on generating data on how the blood samples from people immunised with its vaccine "may be able to neutralise the new strain from the UK."