Britain's Heathrow Airport turns down airline requests for extra flights from India


FILE PHOTO: Travellers walk through Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in London, Britain February 14, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls//File Photo

(Reuters) - Britain's Heathrow Airport has refused to allow extra flights from India before the country is added on Friday to Britain's "red-list" of locations from which most travel is banned due to a high number of COVID-19 cases, the airport said on Wednesday.

The move by Britain comes after it detected more than 100 cases of a coronavirus variant first identified in India, Health Minister Matt Hancock said on Monday.

"We've made the difficult but vital decision to add India to the Red List. This means anyone who is not a UK or Irish resident or a British citizen cannot enter the UK if they've been in India in the previous 10 days," Hancock had told parliament.

Heathrow Airport's refusal to allow extra flights from India was reported earlier by the BBC, with the airport adding that it turned down the requests from airlines because of concerns about queues at passport control.

The airport also told Reuters it did not want to exacerbate existing pressures at the border by allowing more passengers to fly in.

India now faces a coronavirus "storm" overwhelming its health system, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a national address on Tuesday, with the world's second-most populous nation reporting 295,041 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday - the biggest daily rise reported in any country - stretching its hospitals to breaking point.

India's 2,023 deaths in one day were also its highest in the pandemic.

At least 24 COVID-19 patients in western India died on Wednesday when the oxygen supply to their ventilators ran out, amid a nationwide shortage of the gas and a surge in infections.

Health experts said India had let its guard down when the virus seemed to be under control during the winter, allowing big gatherings such as weddings and festivals.

Modi is himself facing criticism for addressing packed political rallies for local elections and allowing a religious festival to go ahead where millions gathered.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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