India likely to extend ban on UK flights, vaccine cold-chain being prepared: Hardeep Puri
India is likely to extend the suspension of flights from the UK in a bid to contain the spread of a new strain of coronavirus, civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Tuesday.
He also said that the aviation ministry is also preparing a cold chain for the transportation of Covid-19 vaccine.
On December 21, India joined a growing list of countries to seal off access to people who have been to the UK, suspending all flights to and from the country between December 23 and December 31 in order to stop the arrival of a new strain of the coronavirus Sars-Cov-2 that is feared to spread faster.
“I foresee a slight extension of the temporary suspension. I don’t expect that extension to be a long or indefinite extension. In the next day or two, we will find out if any additional steps need to be taken, or when we can start easing the current temporary suspension,” Puri said at a press conference on Tuesday.
India has been operating international flights through bilateral transport bubbles with 24 countries including the UK since calling off scheduled overseas flight operations when it announced the lockdown in March.
The minister said passengers who arrived from the UK on December 21 and 22 were made to undergo RT-PCR tests for Covid-19 at the airport, with only those who tested negative being allowed to go home, where they were told to do mandatory home isolation for seven days. Anyone who tested positive was taken to institutional quarantine.
“We went one step further. We went back till November 25 and any passenger who had come directly or indirectly from the UK, we did some contact tracing and we did some Genome sequencing. As per the latest figures that I have...I believe a total of 6 cases out of at least around 2,000 passengers coming in have shown the new strain,” he said.
The aviation ministry is also coordinating with the ministry of health and department of pharmaceuticals for preparing the cold-chain for the Covid 19 vaccine transportation, civil aviation secretary Pradeep Kharola said.
“In the administration of the vaccine transportation is going to be a very important component. This vaccine has to be moved from the place of manufacturing to all the corners of the country. The movement of the vaccine will be multi-modal, it cannot be merely civil aviation, it will be a combination of different modes. For our part we are coordinating with the ministry of health and pharmaceutical. We have also had meetings with airports and airlines regarding the transportation plan of the vaccine,” Kharola said.
The aviation ministry has held a round of meetings with airlines to discuss logistics issues. The central government has started preparations for setting up a cold storage chain for the Covid-19 vaccine that will eventually be approved for use in India, HT had reported on December 7.
“The most important factor for the vaccine’s transportation will be temperature regulation for the entire cold chain that is being made. From the place of manufacture to the place of consumption is a long chain and there will be different modes; there will be road travel, air travel, there will be storages, there will be distribution and then there will be administration of the vaccine. This entire process is being prepared on war footing,” Kharola added.
Puri said that 30 crore Indians will be vaccinated against Covid-19 by July 2021, for which at least 60 crore doses will be needed.
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