India suspends UK flights over fears of new virus strain

FILE PHOTO: A British Airways plane taxis past tail fins of parked aircraft at Heathrow Airport in London

MUMBAI (Reuters) - India said on Monday it would suspend flights from the United Kingdom until the end of the year over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus.

Separately local media reported the government was readying its first deal to buy 50 million COVID-19 shots, while India's worst-affected state of Maharashtra said it would impose an 11 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew in major cities until early January.

India's flight ban will come into effect on Wednesday and all passengers arriving from Britain before then will be tested on arrival at airports, the aviation ministry said on Twitter.

Maharashtra, home to India's financial capital Mumbai, said it would mandate 14 days of institutional quarantine for all travellers arriving from Europe and the Middle East, the chief minister's office said.

"If we receive information that the new strain has spread to other places, then we will consider it," Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri told Reuters partner ANI, outlining the possibility of extending the ban to more countries.

India has recorded the world's second highest number of infections, breaching the 10 million case milestone over the weekend. More than 145,000 people have died from COVID-19 in India, and the government says it is getting ready to vaccinate its citizens starting next month.

CNBC-TV18 news channel, citing unnamed sources, said the government would soon place an order for 50 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine with local manufacturer Serum Institute of India (SII).

A spokesman for SII, the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines by volume, declined comment. A spokeswoman for India's federal health ministry did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters.

(Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Mark Heinrich)