U.K. Adds India to Travel Ban List Amid Covid Variant Fears
Travelers wearing protective masks arrive at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata. (Photographer: Arco Dato/Bloomberg)

U.K. Adds India to Travel Ban List Amid Covid Variant Fears

The U.K. government added India to its travel ban list, amid soaring coronavirus cases in the country and the emergence of a new variant scientists fear could prove partly resistant to vaccines.

Under the new rules coming into force at 4 a.m. U.K. time on Friday, anyone who is not a British or Irish national or has U.K. residence rights will be refused entry to Britain if they have been in India in the last 10 days.

The ban is necessary to “protect the progress we’ve made in this country in tackling this awful disease,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons on Monday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had earlier canceled a visit to India planned for next week, during which he had been due to meet his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. Coronavirus cases hit a record in India over the weekend, fueled by the emergence of a new variant.

Under investigation

Hancock said health authorities had so far identified 103 cases of the variant in the U.K., the “vast majority” linked to international travel. Samples are being analysed for any “concerning characteristics,” he said.

Researchers are investigating how transmissible the variant is, as well as its potential ability to evade vaccines. Officials still call it a “variant under investigation” rather than one “of concern,” and surge testing is being carried out in the U.K. to try and contain its spread.

Asked whether vaccines were effective against the new variant, Hancock told members of Parliament: “We simply don’t know that. We’re acting on a precautionary basis.” He said the core concern is “the vaccines may be less effective in terms of transmission and/or in terms of reducing hospitalization and death.”

India is one of the world’s largest markets for air travel and has strong links to the U.K. population dating back to the British colonial era. The South Asian country had generally fared well in keeping the infection rates down, until recently.

Case Surge

It now has the world’s fastest-growing Covid-19 caseload, adding 273,810 new infections and 1,619 deaths on Monday, leaving it behind only the U.S. in terms of total numbers.

“India is a country I know well and love,” Hancock said. “Between our two countries we have ties of friendship and family. I understand the impact of this decision but I hope the House will concur that we must act.”

Adding India to the so-called red list means that any British citizen who does return to the U.K. will need to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days, which can cost as much as 1,750 pounds ($2,450).

The U.K.’s decision follows similar action by Hong Kong, which banned flights from India for 14 days from April 20 after dozens of passengers from New Delhi tested positive for Covid-19 in Hong Kong, the Press Trust of India reported Saturday.

Carriers including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., Air India and India’s Vistara currently operate services between cities in India and the U.K.

Red List

The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Brazil, South Africa and Philippines are among other countries that are on the U.K.’s red list. While travel from the U.K. is currently banned for most people until at least May 17 under the country’s lockdown rules, flights have continued operating for those exempt from the rules.

Earlier on Monday, Johnson told broadcasters it was “sensible” to postpone his India trip given the shape of the pandemic there.” He said he planned to speak with Modi virtually and hoped he would attend the Group of Seven summit of world leaders in the U.K. in June.

While Johnson’s predecessor, former Prime Minister David Cameron, pursued a strategy of increased trade ties with both India and China, relations with Beijing have soured in recent months -- placing diplomacy with New Delhi at the heart of Britain’s plans.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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