India has been added to a “red list” of countries from which most travel to the UK is prohibited, the health secretary said, due to concerns about a new Covid variant. From 04:00 BST on Friday 23 April, most people who have visited India in the last ten days will be denied entry. British or Irish permanent residents and UK residents shall be allowed, but must spend ten days isolated at a hotel approved by the government.
Matt Hancock stated that there had been 103 cases of the India variant in the United Kingdom. The health secretary stated in a statement to the House of Commons that the vast majority of cases of the new variant – officially known as B.1.617 – were linked to international travel.
He added that test samples had been analyzed to determine whether the new variant exhibited any “unfavourable characteristics,” such as increased transmissibility or resistance to treatments and vaccines.
“After analysing the data and exercising caution,” he told MPs, “we’ve made the difficult but critical decision to add India to the red list.” According to health officials, this new variant, first identified in India, contains some concerning genetic changes that warrant further investigation.
It is still too early to determine whether it is more contagious, deadly, or resistant to vaccines – or whether it should be added to the Variant of Concern list alongside the South Africa, Kent, and Brazil variants. Assessments are ongoing, and the government is working to prevent additional cases from entering and spreading throughout the country.
The change was precipitated by an alarming increase in infections, with 332,730 cases reported in India on Friday – the world’s highest daily tally for the second consecutive day – and concerns about a new COVID variant.
That is why the government is also ramping upsurge testing to quickly identify any new cases in the UK and introducing a new type of rapid lab test that can determine within hours whether someone is positive for Covid – and whether the infection they have is one of the known variants, including this new one from India. It should mean that people can isolate themselves more quickly to avoid spreading it to their friends, families, neighbors, and coworkers. The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, stated on Twitter that the move was made to protect the UK’s “hard-won progress on vaccine rollout.”
According to a briefing document prepared by Public Health England officials, 3,345 arrivals from India were registered in UK border travel data between 25 March and 7 April. After a PCR test, 161 of those 161 – or 4.8 percent – tested positive for Covid-19.
The new travel restriction is effective in England and Scotland. There are no direct international flights to Wales or Northern Ireland at the moment.
“International travel will continue to be a significant risk, necessitating a cautious approach on a four-nation basis,” Scotland’s Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said.
Mr. Hancock also confirmed that 557 cases of the South Africa variant had been discovered in the UK since December, including a “cluster” of cases in south London and isolated cases in Barnet, Birmingham, and Sandwell last week.
While approximately two-thirds were associated with international travel, a “modest amount” of transmission occurred within communities, he added. He indicated that the government was “accelerating” plans for a booster shot to ensure vaccines remained “ahead of the virus.”
India banned flights from the United Kingdom less than four months ago to halt the spread of the UK variant. As the so-called ‘Indian variant’ is investigated and the case count increases in that country, the reverse has occurred. It demonstrates how rapidly international dynamics can change.
The Westminster government gave a week’s notice when it last added countries to the red list, including Bangladesh and Pakistan, in early April. This time, it’s slightly more than three days. Direct flights to and from India are already limited to 30 per week due to a January decision by the Indian government, which means that many will be scrambling to book the final few seats before Friday.
While the travel industry continues to hope that international travel from England will resume on 17 May, today’s announcement underscores that it will be some time before the world is again open to us. The list of countries on the restricted list is growing rather than shrinking.
The announcement came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson postponed a planned visit to India on 26 April, citing an increase in cases. Since 15 April, India has reported more than 200,000 cases daily. Delhi, the capital, has declared a week-long lockdown following many cases overwhelming the city’s healthcare system.
It comes as the UK recently reported four deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test. It is the lowest daily figure recorded since 7 September, though the number of deaths recorded on Monday and over the weekend is typically lower due to reporting delays. Additionally, there were 2,963 new infections, according to the data. Meanwhile, over 10 million people in the United Kingdom have received a second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, while nearly 33 million have received their first dose.