• Friday, May 20, 2022

HEADLINE STORY

Heathrow turns down airline requests for extra flights from India

Passengers at the London Heathrow Airport. (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

By: Pramod Thomas

BRITAIN’s Heathrow Airport has refused to allow extra flights from India before the country is added on Friday (23) to Britain’s “red-list” of locations from which most travel is banned due to a high number of Covid-19 cases, the airport said.

The move by Britain comes after it detected more than 100 cases of a coronavirus variant first identified in India, health minister Matt Hancock said.

“We’ve made the difficult but vital decision to add India to the Red List. This means anyone who is not a UK or Irish resident or a British citizen cannot enter the UK if they’ve been in India in the previous 10 days,” Hancock had told parliament.

Heathrow Airport’s refusal to allow extra flights from India was reported earlier by the BBC, with the airport adding that it turned down the requests from airlines because of concerns about queues at passport control.

The airport also told Reuters it did not want to exacerbate existing pressures at the border by allowing more passengers to fly in.

Four carriers had requested to operate an additional eight flights from India as travellers seek to fly before the new rule comes into effect, reported the PTI.

Currently, 30 flights a week are operating between the UK and India.

India’s civil aviation authority has confirmed that it also received applications for charter flight permits from India to the UK – but these had been declined or withdrawn as they did not meet the qualifying criteria.

India’s addition to the travel ‘red list’ was announced in the House of Commons on Monday (19) amid 103 cases recorded in the UK of a new variant of coronavirus first detected in India.

Hancock told MPs that the decision had been made after studying the data and on a precautionary basis.

Since then, online travel agent Skyscanner said searches for flights returning to the UK from India had increased by more than 250 per cent.

The ban means that those with valid residency rights returning to the UK after the deadline on Friday face the additional financial burden of compulsory hotel quarantine and tests costs, estimated at around  £2,000 per person.

A briefing document drawn up by officials at Public Health England shows that between March 25 and April 7, a total of 3,345 arrivals from India were registered in UK border travel data. Of those 161 tested positive for Covid-19 after a PCR test.

Covid ‘storm’

India now faces a coronavirus ‘storm’ overwhelming its health system, prime minister Narendra Modi said in a national address on Tuesday (20), with the world’s second-most populous nation reporting over 300,000 new coronavirus infections on Thursday (22) – the biggest daily rise reported in any country – stretching its hospitals to breaking point.

At least 24 Covid-19 patients in western India died on Wednesday (21) when the oxygen supply to their ventilators ran out, amid a nationwide shortage of the gas and a surge in infections.

Health experts said India had let its guard down when the virus seemed to be under control during the winter, allowing big gatherings such as weddings and festivals.

Modi is himself facing criticism for addressing packed political rallies for local elections and allowing a religious festival to go ahead where millions gathered.

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