India travel bans grow as Europe attempts to keep out Covid-19 variant

Germany, Netherlands and Belgium are latest to impose restrictions

A health worker exits an ambulance outside a quarantine center at the Goregaon NESCO jumbo Covid centre in the Goregaon suburb of Mumbai, India, on Tuesday, April 27, 2021. India's spike in virus numbers has prompted state governments to impose movement curbs, which in turn have tamped down economic activity as well as stoked price pressures because of broken supply chains. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

More European countries are shutting down travel from India, amid fears that a particularly dangerous new variant is fuelling the dire Covid-19 situation in the country.

Germany and the Netherlands both imposed travel bans on Monday, followed by Belgium on Tuesday – days after Britain added India to its red list.

India is recording an average of more than 300,000 new coronavirus cases each day and the health system is overwhelmed by the crisis, leaving some patients dying due to lack of oxygen.

Scientists are not yet certain whether the B.1.617 variant first detected in India is to blame for this drastic second wave of infections.

However, numerous governments have moved to prevent travel from India to stop the variant taking hold in their own countries, potentially setting back vaccination campaigns.

On Tuesday, Belgium became the latest country to do so. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced a ban on arrivals from India, Brazil and South Africa, which are all linked to variants of the disease.

Last week, 20 Indian students tested positive for the B.1.617 variant in Belgium, having arrived together on a bus from France.

A Belgian virologist had earlier said there were too many exceptions to travel rules, which could allow the variant to reach Europe.

"This country should never wonder how on earth all those variants come rolling in," said Marc Van Ranst of KU Leuven university.

Under the new rules, Belgian nationals can still return from India, along with transport workers and diplomats on essential business.

The rules are similar in the Netherlands, which also allows health workers and people combating the Covid-19 pandemic to avoid the flight ban.

Germans are also allowed to return to their home country from India, but must test negative before the flight and quarantine for 14 days after landing.

"The newly discovered virus mutation in India worries us very much," German Health Minister Jens Spahn said.

“In order to avoid endangering our vaccination campaign, traffic between Germany and India must be clearly reduced.”

Outside Europe, Australia and the Philippines announced new restrictions on travel from India on Tuesday.

Scientists study effects of India's Covid-19 variant 

France imposed restrictions on travel from India last week, with compulsory testing and a 10-day quarantine.

In the UK, health officials have registered 132 cases of the variant, made up of 119 in England, eight in Wales and five in Scotland.

India's addition to the UK red list means that only British and Irish nationals and people with residency rights in the UK will be allowed to enter.

Scientists are still examining whether the variant is more transmissible or capable of evading vaccines.

Ravi Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said the new variant appeared to be dominating other strains circulating in some parts of India.

He said this could mean that the virus mutation had an advantage over other strains, but said this has not been confirmed.

Experts said there could be other reasons for India’s second wave, including the relatively slow progress of its vaccination campaign.

India is the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines but only 8.7 per cent of its population has received a vaccine so far, according to scientific online publication Our World In Data.

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