Students, families stuck in UK as India suspends flights
India's temporary suspension of all flights to and from the United Kingdom has impacted the travel plans of several Indian students who were hoping to travel home during the holiday season. On Monday, India had ordered the suspension of all flights in light of the emergence of a new strain of the coronavirus, which UK authorities say is more infectious. Here are more details.
"Many students had planned to travel either back to India to be with their families over the holiday period or from India to the UK in order to start settling into the country ahead of the commencement of the January session," Sanam Arora—Chair of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK (NISAU-UK), a representative group for Indian students in the UK—told NDTV.
Arora went on to add, "As we speak, there are many questions being raised around being stuck and confusion for instance around whether the PCR test detects the new strain of the virus."
On Monday, India's Ministry of Civil Aviation announced that all flights to and from the UK will remain suspended from Tuesday midnight till midnight on December 31. Passengers already in transit will face mandatory RT-PCR testing and quarantines. Air India, which has been operating special repatriation flights under the Vande Bharat mission, also said that all flights will be suspended during the period.
The UK has reported a mutated strain of the coronavirus, which authorities say is as much as 70% more infectious. Experts argue that more studies are needed to see if the claim of the new strain being more transmissible holds water. Citing rising infections in and around London, the UK has imposed the most stringent lockdown since March.
Meanwhile, expatriate groups in the UK urged for calm and advised non-resident Indians and people of Indian origin to follow the new restrictions. Kuldeep Shekhawat—President of the Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) group—sought to highlight that both governments are monitoring the situation closely. Notably, the UK Home Office has previously offered grace periods for any visa expirations caught up due to coronavirus-related travel disruptions.