Thursday 13 May 2021 7:40 AM UTC
BRUSSELS May 13: The European Union’s executive on Wednesday called on countries of the bloc to temporarily halt non-essential travel from India, to limit the spread of a COVID-19 variant.
The European Commission said its proposal followed the World Health Organisation’s proposal on Monday to reclassify the B.1.617.2 variant of COVID-19 found in India as a “variant of concern”, raising the alert from a “variant of interest”.
EU countries should apply an “emergency brake” on non-essential travel from India, it said in a statement.
“It is important to limit to the strict minimum the categories of travellers that can travel from India for essential reasons and to subject those who may still travel from India to strict testing and quarantine arrangements,” it added.
Last week the Commission proposed that the EU’s 27 member states ease COVID-19 travel restrictions from June to allow foreign travellers from more countries to enter the bloc, while keeping the option to quickly restrict travel from countries where the health situation deteriorates sharply.
The member states have not yet adopted this recommendation but could individually opt to ban non-essential travel from India before it is adopted.
India’s coronavirus death count crossed 250,000 on Wednesday in the deadliest 24 hours since the pandemic began and experts around the world have expressed concern the variant first identified there may be highly transmissible.
The European Commission said limited exemptions should apply to its proposed halt to travel from India, including to those travelling for “imperative family reasons” or EU citizens and long-term residents.
Those travellers should face additional health measures on arrival in the EU, such as strict testing or quarantine requirements, it said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday said the COVID-19 variant first detected in India was of “increasing concern” in the UK and the country’s health authorities are looking at all possible solutions as its case numbers continue to rise in parts of England.
During the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) session in the House of Commons, he was asked about the variant – named B.1.617.2 and classified as a Variant of Concern (VOC) by Public Health England (PHE) – and told Members of Parliament that it may be “considerably more transmissible” than the dominant variant in the UK first detected in the county of Kent last year.
“We must be vigilant because the threat of this virus remains real and new variants pose a potentially lethal danger, including the one first identified in India which is of increasing concern here in the UK,” said Johnson.
“We are looking at all potential solutions for the surges we are seeing in Bolton and elsewhere including that, although that is not top of the list right now,” he said, in response to a question on whether people in the most affected areas of Britain could be accelerated through the vaccination queue.
The UK Prime Minister revealed there are now “860 or so” cases in England of the VOC detected in India, “but there may be more” as the variant “may be considerably more transmissible”.
The variant B.1.617.2 is one of three subtypes of the variant first detected in India and was designated as a VOC by PHE last week after over 500 cases were found in parts of England. It is among a list of variants, including those first found in South Africa and Brazil, currently being monitored as VOCs in Britain.
So far, 127,890 lives have been lost and 4,455,446 people have been infected by the coronavirus in the UK, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Scientists fear possible delay to 21 June end of lockdown as UK cases of India variant ‘triple in one week’
A member of the government’s scientific advisory committee, Sage, said that while next Monday’s step 3 of easing of restrictions in England would go ahead, concerns over the Indian variant might increase ahead of the fourth and final step on 21 June and that “a delay is possible”. – PTI
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