The step comes after countries like Canada, Saudi Arabia, and several European countries suspended flights from the UK over the new strain

India has decided to suspend all flights to and from the United Kingdom till December 31 over a new fast-spreading strain of the coronavirus in that country.

“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),” the Ministry of Civil Aviation said. This suspension of flight operations will start w.e.f. 23.59 hours, 22nd December 2020.

This restriction shall, however, not apply to international all-cargo operations and flights specifically approved by DGCA.

All the passengers arriving from the UK will have to go through mandatory COVID-19 testing, according to the announcement.

“As a measure of precaution, 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 hrs) should be subject to mandatory RT-PCR test at the arrival port in India,” the Ministry said in a statement. The passengers found COVID-19 positive on arrival shall be quarantined as per guidelines issued by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and would bear the medical costs incurred, it added.

The ministry also said that airlines operating flights to India from other countries shall not board any passenger travelling from UK to India and shall ensure that no passenger coming from UK is boarded in a flight for any destination in India either directly or indirectly.

The step comes after countries like Canada, Saudi Arabia, and several European countries suspended flights from the UK over the new strain.

Earlier, the health ministry called an emergency meeting of its top advisors to discuss the emergence of the mutated strain in the UK.

On Monday, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said the government was fully alert about the new strain and stressed: "there's no need to panic".

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had also called the government to ban all flights from the UK on Monday, stating the new mutation of coronavirus is a “super-spreader.”

"New mutation of coronavirus has emerged in UK, which is a super-spreader. I urge central government to ban all flights from UK immediately,” Kejriwal had said in a tweet.

As things stand, scheduled international commercial flights remain suspended at least till December 31. However, special flights like charter flights, flights under bilateral air bubble arrangements, and repatriation flights are allowed to operate to international destinations.

In the wake of COVID-19, scheduled international flights have been suspended in India since March 23; flights later resumed in a phased manner under bilateral air bubble arrangements. India has air bubble pacts with as many as 23 countries, including the US and the UK.