Majority want govt to suspend flights from UK, South Africa amid jump in COVID-19 cases: Survey

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Mumbai, Mar 28 (PTI) As many as two-thirds of the people want the government to suspend flights from the UK and South Africa amid a near sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country in the recent weeks, according to a survey.

At the same time, another 43 per cent of the people covered under the survey, conducted by online platform LocalCircles, were in favour of suspending all international air services to contain the 'second wave' of the pandemic, it said.

The survey findings are based on the responses received from over 8,800 citizens from across 244 districts in the country, as per a statement.

Scheduled international operations remain suspended since late March last year. Amid this, special international flights have been allowed under the Vande Bharat Mission since May last year and under bilateral 'air bubble' arrangements with select countries since July.

Direct lineage of SARS-COV2 variants, especially the UK and South African variants, has been detected in different parts of the country amid an upward trajectory in the number of active COVID-19 cases in the country, with over 60,000 cases now being reported daily, LocalCircles said.

This is a five-fold increase in the daily case load in 45 days which were about 12,000 on February 12 this year, it added.

It is estimated that the UK variant has spread to over 70 countries, while South African variant is in more than 30 countries, said the statement. In the wake of this, LocalCircles asked citizens if any restrictions on international flights should now be implemented via a survey, it added.

'Sixty-five per cent of the citizens (are) still in favour of suspending arrivals of passengers from the UK and South Africa to limit coronavirus variants, (while) 43 per cent (are) in favour of suspending all international arrivals for a month,' LocalCircles said in the statement with survey findings.

There were also 32 per cent of the citizens who said 'suspending flights is not the solution', while 3 per cent did not have an answer, it said.

According to many citizens, the damage has already been done and the variants are at different stages in India primarily due to all the international arrivals in the last three months. However, at least shutting flights now will not bring in new infections and new strains, LocalCircles said.

In fact, the platform had in late December, based on public feedback, escalated to the government the risk of mutant coronavirus, urging that all flights from the UK and other high-risk countries be shut till the end of January. In the survey, at that time, 64 per cent of citizens wanted bubble international flights shut with countries, particularly the UK, having cases of the new strain.

The same was done. However, the UK flight shutdown was resumed from January 8 after keeping them on hold for about two weeks, LocalCircles said.

With limited capacity to do genome testing, some 10,787 samples from 18 Indian states have shown so far 771 cases (736 of UK variant, 34 South African variant, and 1 Brazilian variant), according to the statement.

It said Punjab Chief Minister Amrinder Singh has announced that 81 per cent of the cases found in his state based on genome testing are of the UK variant type. Punjab has direct flights between the UK and Amritsar that have been running as part of the Vande Bharat programme. it added.

'It is not just Punjab that has identified the existence of B.1.1.7 in 18 states. Maharashtra is seeking the highest-ever surges with 35,000 case per day; and in Delhi, the daily caseload has tripled from 500 to 1,500 in a matter of five days,' LocalCircles said.

According to the platform, as many as 60 per cent citizens in a related survey felt that this new surge is driven by variants. 'While the government has not accepted that yet, it is known that the B.1.1.7 is 50-60 per cent more transmissible than the original COVID-19 strain. The strain has also impacted the young much more than the previous COVID-19 strain,' it said.

Though there will be no vaccine for the young at least till the end of this year, India has crossed six crore inoculations of adults and is vaccinating between 20-30 lakh citizens daily, as per the release.

However, it will be the end of 2022 before the entire citizens in the country can be vaccinated, and 'that is why this second wave of COVID-19 is extremely worrying to many', it said. PTI IAS HRS hrs