New Delhi: In the wake of the emergence of a mutated variant of the coronavirus in the UK, India on Monday suspended all passenger flights from there till December 31, joining several other countries that have imposed a similar flight ban. Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan held an emergency meeting with officials to take stock of the situation and said the government is fully alert and there is no need to panic. As per the order from the Ministry of Civil Aviation, passengers coming from the UK through flights till Tuesday midnight would be tested for COVID-19 on arrival at airports as a measure of abundant precaution. Also Read - Delhi Government Extends COVID Guidelines for UK Returnees Till January 31

Prior to India, a number of countries such as Canada, Turkey, Belgium, Italy and Israel have banned flights from the UK as the British government warned that the potent new strain of the virus was out of control and imposed a stringent new stay-at-home lockdown from Sunday. Also Read - India Records 12,584 COVID Cases in Last 24 Hours, Lowest in Seven Months | Key Points

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Twitter that the passengers who are found COVID-19-positive would be sent for institutional quarantine set up by states or union territories (UTs). “Those found negative should be advised to isolate at home for seven days and will be medically monitored by states/UTs,” Puri added. Also Read - 11 UK Returnees Test Positive For New Coronavirus Strain in Maharashtra; India's Tally Nears 100

Earlier during the day, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote to Union Civil Aviation Ministry Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola recommending suspension of all flights originating from the UK into India till December 31.

Aviation regulator DGCA on Monday said all airlines must ensure that passengers travelling from the UK do not board their flights from anywhere outside the UK to come to India during the suspension period.

Notably, this suspension will start after 11.59 PM of December 22 and, consequently, flights from India to the UK shall also stand temporarily suspended during the period.

The development comes at a time when Vistara, Air India, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have for the last few months been operating a limited number of direct special flights between India and the UK under the bilateral air bubble arrangement between the two nations.

Night curfew in Maharashtra

Ahead of the Christmas and New Year celebrations, the Maharashtra government on Monday declared a night curfew in municipal corporation areas from December 22 to January 5 as a precautionary step amid growing concerns over a new coronavirus variant spreading in Britain.

As per the order from the state government, it has also been decided to compulsorily put in institutional quarantine for 14 days those who arrive at the states airports from European and West Asian countries. The institutional quarantining of the travellers from these countries will begin from Monday itself.

Passengers coming from other countries to Maharashtra, the worst COVID-19-affected state in the country, will be home quarantined. The decisions were taken after Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray held a review meeting at his official residence Varsha here in the light of the situation in the UK.

Sensex plunges 1407 points

Equity benchmark Sensex plummeted 1,407 points on Monday as panic over a new strain of coronavirus in the UK led to a massive selloff in global equities. The 30-share BSE index plunged 1,406.73 points or 3 per cent to close at 45,553.96. The broader NSE Nifty crashed 432.15 points or 3.14 per cent to 13,328.40.

All Sensex components ended in the red, with ONGC leading the pack by tanking around 9 per cent. IndusInd Bank, M&M, SBI, NTPC, ITC, Axis Bank and PowerGrid shed up to 7 per cent. Global oil benchmark Brent crude futures plummetted 5.30 per cent to USD 49.49 per barrel.

Govt is fully alert, says Vardhan

Holding an emergency meeting, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Monday that the government is fully alert and there is no need to panic. The Union Health Ministry has called an urgent meeting of its Joint Monitoring Group on Monday to discuss the new strain, which has led to a surge in the infection rate in the UK.

He said the government had done everything that was important to handle the COVID-19 situation in the last one year. The scientific community, he added, had very ably risen to the occasion, continuously striving and contributing to whatever was needed to combat and understand any aspect of COVID-19.

Quarantine must at Bengaluru airport

On the other hand, the Karnataka government on Monday mandated a seven-day quarantine for travellers arriving in the state from that country, Denmark and the Netherlands. Health Minister K Sudhakar said that those who arrived in the state from these countries during the last 14 days would be traced in the next 24 hours and subjected to RT-PCR test.

The Minister held a meeting on Monday with the Technical Advisory Committee of Health and Family Welfare Department to discuss steps in this regard. Sudhakar, in a tweet, said initial studies in the U.K suggested that the virus may be more contagious than the present one, but not more virulent.

(With inputs from agencies)