India finds six cases of COVID-19 variant, may extend UK flight ban


India is likely to extend a flight ban from the UK after six people who returned from Britain in recent weeks tested positive for the more infectious strain of the novel coronavirus.

All six of the infected people had been kept in isolation, the health ministry said in a statement, adding that their fellow travellers were being traced.

"Their close contacts have also been put under quarantine," the ministry said.

India had suspended all flights from Britain until the end of the month over worry about the infectious variant of the virus but about 33,000 passengers had flown in from late November, before the ban was enforced, the ministry said.

Of those arrivals, 114 people were found positive for the coronavirus and their samples were being checked for the new variant, which has been detected across parts of Europe and Asia, it said.

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said the ban on flights from Britain would probably remain in force into the New Year.

"I foresee a slight extension," Puri told reporters.

"I don't expect that extension to be a long or indefinite."

With 10.22 million confirmed infections, India has the second-highest novel coronavirus cases in the world.

On Tuesday, the health ministry, however, reported the lowest daily rise since June 25 at 16,432 new cases.

More than 148,150 people have died of COVID-19 in India, according to ministry data.

Health authorities expect to start a vaccination drive for some 300 million people early next month, with the Serum Institute of India, which is making the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus shot, expecting its emergency approval within days. 

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