India suspends UK flights over fears of new virus strain

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Men walk past a mural of frontline workers amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Mumbai, India, December 21, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

MUMBAI (Reuters) – India said on Monday it would suspend flights from the United Kingdom until the end of the year over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus.

Separately local media reported the government was readying its first deal to buy 50 million COVID-19 shots.

The flight ban will come into effect on Wednesday and all passengers arriving from Britain before then will be tested on arrival at airports, India’s aviation ministry said on Twitter.

A number of European and other nations have shut off travel ties with Britain after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the new strain was a danger to the country.

Britain is one of the 23 countries that India shares an “air bubble” with.

“If we receive information that the new strain has spread to other places, then we will consider it,” India’s Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri told Reuters partner ANI, outlining the possibility of extending the ban to more countries.

India’s health minister said that authorities remained vigilant and prepared to deal with the new strain, adding that there was no need to panic.

The country has recorded the world’s second highest number of infections, breaching the 10 million case milestone over the weekend. More than 145,000 people have died from COVID-19, and the government says it is getting ready to vaccinate its citizens starting next month.

CNBC-TV18 news channel, citing unnamed sources, said the government would soon place an order for 50 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine with local manufacturer Serum Institute of India (SII).

A spokesman for SII, the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines by volume, declined comment. A spokeswoman for India’s federal health ministry did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters.

SII, meanwhile, plans to ask the government to indemnify manufacturers against lawsuits resulting from any vaccine side-effects.

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