‘Red list’ ban: Heathrow Airport refuses to allow extra flights from India
Dubai bans travel from India, Australia announces flight reduction
London/ Melbourne/Dubai: Heathrow Airport in London, the UK’s largest and busiest airport, has declined requests from at least four international aircraft carriers to land eight extra flights from India on Thursday, ahead of the coronavirus pandemic “red list” travel ban which comes into force from Friday.
The airport said the decision to decline requests for additional flights was taken to ensure that the existing pressures on the border are not “exacerbated”, resulting in long queues and crowds at passport control on arrival.
India’s addition to the travel “red list” was announced in the House of Commons earlier this week amid 103 cases recorded in the UK of a new variant of coronavirus first detected in India. Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs that the decision had been made after studying the data and on a precautionary basis .
“That means that anyone who is not a UK or Irish resident or a British citizen cannot enter the UK if they have been in India in the previous 10 days. UK and Irish residents and British citizens who have been in India in the 10 days before their arrival will need to complete hotel quarantine for 10 days from the time of arrival, said Hancock.
It has since triggered considerable confusion and panic as hundreds of Indian students and other UK-based British Indians scramble for return flights ahead of the Friday deadline. London-based family-owned travel agency, Tickets to India, is among the agents who have been working round the clock to try and sort out charter flights to carry Indian-origin passengers back to the UK.
“Hundreds of British nationals are still requesting seats but there is very little time to arrange a second charter before Friday,” said the company, which was working on getting clearance for one Qatar Airways A350 to bring 300 passengers back before the cut-off time (4am local time) on Friday.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority said it had received several applications for charter flight permits from India to the UK, but many have been declined or withdrawn as they did not meet the qualifying criteria.
“We are in a global health pandemic people should not be travelling unless absolutely necessary,” a UK government spokesperson said.
“Every essential check helps avoid the risk of importing dangerous variants of coronavirus which could put our vaccine rollout at risk,” the spokesperson said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was forced to cancel his India visit due to the surging coronavirus cases in India, told a Downing Street briefing earlier this week that the so-called “Indian variant” is still a variant under investigation, not a “variant of concern” as Public Health England (PHE) and other authorities continue to investigate its transmissibility and any vaccine resistance.
A briefing document drawn up by PHE officials shows that between March 25 and April 7, a total of 3,345 arrivals from India were registered in UK border travel data, being collected through compulsory passenger locator forms at the airport. Of the arrivals so far 161 or 4.8 per cent tested positive for COVID-19 after a PCR test.
The travel 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 pounds per person.
The National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK (NISAU-UK), a representative group for Indian students in the UK, has been working on trying to seek some reprieve for Indian students from the additional and unforeseen financial burden.
“Significant concern is being raised about the cost of quarantine as well as how the new restrictions impact student eligibility for the Graduate visa route for which they need to be in the country by particular dates, said NISAU UK chair Sanam Arora.
The Home Office had already extended the deadline period for the physical campus presence requirements for students to be able to apply for the new Graduate or post-study work visa until June-end and a further extension is reportedly being considered.
Meanwhile, the government has indicated that students with valid visas but yet to collect their biometric residence permits (BRPs) would qualify for entry, subject to all the additional quarantine rules.
Meanwhile, the UAE has banned travel from India for 10 days from Sunday due to the worsening COVID-19 situation in the country, according to media reports here on Thursday.
The travel ban will come into effect from 11.59 pm on Saturday, April 24, and is subject to review after 10 days, the Gulf News reported.
Passengers who have transited through India in the last 14 days are also not permitted to board from any other point to the UAE, the report said.
However, departure flights will continue to operate, it added.
UAE citizens, diplomatic passport holders and official delegations are exempted from the above conditions, it said.
According to Khaleej Times, people are barred from booking flights from the UAE to Indian destinations after April 24 on the Emirates, Etihad, flydubai and Air Arabia websites.
The UAE is the latest country to impose a travel ban on passengers from India after it recorded the world’s highest daily tally of 314,835 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday.
Interestingly, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also announced a 30-per cent reduction in flights coming from high-risk COVID-19 nations like India, following an alarming rise in coronavirus cases in institutionalised quarantine centres in the country.
After a national Cabinet meeting in Canberra, Morrison said: “What we have agreed to — and this particularly relates to the chartered services we’re running into the Northern Territory — we will be reducing by some 30 per cent the numbers coming through our chartered services in the months ahead.”
The reduction would apply to both government-organised repatriation flights and commercial flights into Sydney, ABC News reported.
While the list of high-risk countries was still being finalised, Morrison said the announcement was made keeping in view India’s worsening second wave of the coronavirus.
India registered over 3.14 lakh new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest-ever single-day count recorded in any country, taking the total tally of COVID-19 cases in the country to 1,59,30,965.
“We will also be limiting the departure exceptions for Australians travelling to high-risk countries to India. As time goes on, and the pandemic continues to rage, there are countries that are frankly of greater risk than others,” Morrison said.
“The Chief Medical Officer, working with others and the DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade), will be seeking to put a list of high-risk countries in place,” he said, adding that the list would be similar to that of the UK’s COVID-19 travel “red list”.
Morrison further said new rules to return to Australia would now be applied for those coming from such high-risk nations.
If you have been in a high-risk country in the previous 14 days, before getting on your last point of embarkation to Australia, then you would need to have had a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test 72 hours before leaving that last point of embarkation, Morrison said.
He said these new steps reflect that this is a global pandemic which is raging.
Australians are living like few others anywhere else in the world. We take those border arrangements very seriously. This is a way of matching that risk, the prime minister said, explaining how strict border controls has led to fewer cases in Australia.
”We have been working hard to get Australians home, particularly since last September. And there will continue to be the opportunity for those to return from places like India, but in very controlled circumstances,” he said.