The Health Ministry has called a meeting today of its joint monitoring group on COVID-19 to discuss a mutant coronavirus that has spread rapidly in the UK, government sources have said. Several European nations have banned flights to and from Britain. No policy decision has been taken by India on any flight ban from the UK but the matter will be given a serious consideration, people with direct knowledge of the matter said.
Britain has warned this new strain of coronavirus was “out of control”, and imposed a stringent new stay-at-home lockdown from Sunday.
The joint monitoring group chaired by the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) will meet today around 10 am to discuss the mutated variant of coronavirus reported from the UK, government sources said.
The World Health Organisation’s India representative Roderico H Ofrin, who is also a member of the monitoring group, is likely to participate in the meeting.
The Netherlands has imposed a ban on UK flights and Belgium said it would follow suit. Germany, too, stopped flights from Britain and is considering a similar move as “a serious option” for flights from South Africa, where another variant of coronavirus was discovered.
Italy will join the ban in order to protect its citizens, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio wrote on Facebook, without specifying when the measures would come into force. Austria’s Health Ministry told the APA news agency that it would also impose a flight ban, the details of which were still being worked out.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Sunday warned that the strict measures that affect almost a third of England’s population could stay in place until the virus vaccine is fully rolled out. “We acted very quickly and decisively,” Mr Hancock told Sky News, justifying the “stay at home” order, ban on family gatherings over Christmas and closure of non-essential shops. “Unfortunately, the new strain was out of control. We have got to get it under control.”
The mutation of the coronavirus is worrying scientists across the globe as drug firms are still in their early stages of rolling out vaccines.
Scientists first discovered the new variant – which they believe is 70 per cent more transmissible – in a patient in September. And Public Health England, a government agency, raised alarm on Friday when modelling revealed the full seriousness of the new strain.
Britain’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty pointed out that while the new strain was greatly more infectious, “there is no current evidence to suggest (it) causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments, although urgent work is underway to confirm this”, news agency AFP reported.
India today added 26,624 coronavirus infections in 24 hours, taking its tally to 1,00,31,223, according to the Health Ministry data. The number of fresh infections is 5.8 per cent higher than Saturday, when the country registered 25,152 cases to take the total infections to over one crore mark.
With inputs from AFP