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LBC reveals over 100 flights from India landed in UK since country placed on 'red list'

18 May 2021, 17:23 | Updated: 19 May 2021, 10:53

More than 100 flights arrived in the UK from India after it was red listed
More than 100 flights arrived in the UK from India after it was red listed. Picture: PA

By Ben Kentish

One hundred and ten direct flights from India have landed in the UK in the three and a half weeks since the country was placed on the travel Red List amid rising concerns about Covid-19 variants, LBC can reveal.

Analysis of flight data by LBC shows that direct flights from India have continued to land in the UK at a rate of 4.5 per day, despite growing fears about a variant that has spread rapidly and quickly become dominant across much of India.

While the UK government has banned direct flights from 11 other Red List countries that have direct flights to the UK, including Brazil and South Africa, it did not adopt a similar policy when India was placed on the list. Flights are also allowed from neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Boris Johnson warned last week that rapidly rising cases of the named B1.617.2 variant, first detected in India, could derail plans to end social distancing on 21st June.

Last Friday, the Prime Minister held a press conference to warn the British public of ministers’ and scientific advisers’ fears over the variant. On that day alone, seven direct flights from India arrived in the UK.

NHS Test and Trace data shows that, in the 14 days between 22nd April and 5th May, 4,258 travellers arriving from India undertook Covid tests - far more than the number arriving from any other country in the world, except Pakistan. Of those arriving from India during the 14 day period, 299 (7%) tested positive for Covid.

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If this trend continued for the most recent fortnight, almost 8,500 passengers would be expected to have arrived from India since the country was placed on the Red List. Around 600 of them are likely to have been infected with Covid-19.

Test and Trace data suggests that almost half (46%) of those who tested positive after arriving from India were infected with a worrying variant – either a “Variant of Concern” or a “Variant Under Investigation”.

While almost all passengers from Red List countries have to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days, concerns have repeatedly been voiced about passengers from high-risk countries mixing with other passengers and airport staff while queuing for hours at UK airports. Currently, passengers use the same airport terminals as those arriving from Amber and Green-rated countries.

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Industry sources told LBC that airport bosses raised concerns about this problem during discussions with the government in January, but claimed that the Department for Transport “did not engage” on the matter. Today, Boris Johnson’s spokesperson today suggested it was airports' responsibility to ensure queues at arrivals were Covid secure.

British Airways and Virgin are operating a combined several flights each day from Mumbai and Delhi, while BA also offers routes from Bengaluru and Hyderabad. Indian airlines Air India and Vistara are also flying several times a week.

In addition to the 110 flights that arrived after India was on the Red List, a further 16 flights landed in the UK between that decision being announced on 19 April and the change coming into force, as passengers rushed to avoid hotel quarantine.

Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, told LBC: “The mess over the banned flights and the Red List is yet more evidence of the utter mess that the Conservatives have made of protecting our borders against Covid, while the scenes of people from Red List countries having to mix at airports is deeply worrying.

He added: “UK government mistakes have risked letting variants in, putting our hope for freedoms at risk.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We have adapted and bolstered our world leading test and quarantine systems for incoming passengers since the start of the pandemic, and will continue to closely monitor direct flights from a small number of Red List countries to see if a blanket ban would be necessary and proportionate.

“Public safety always comes first, however we need to also consider other factors, such as critical freight and helping British nationals return home safely.”