HONG KONG: Hong Kong and India will ban all flights arriving from the United Kingdom, following the discovery of a new and highly infectious strain of the coronavirus in the UK.
Many European countries, including France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, have also banned flights from the UK. Outside of Europe, several countries such as Canada, Iran and Saudi Arabia have also closed their doors to travellers from the UK.
The new strain could be up to 70 per cent more infectious, the United Kingdom has said.
Much is unknown about the strain, but experts said current vaccines should still be effective against it. The new strain has not been reported in Asia.
With authorities in the densely packed financial hub seeking to curb rising case numbers, Health Secretary Sophia Chan said on Monday there was a need to launch more vigorous and targeted measures to prevent further spreading of COVID-19 in Hong Kong.
"We are now at a very critical stage," Chan said at a news briefing. "During the fourth wave, we have seen that the virus is highly transmissible and patients' conditions are more severe than previously."
Hong Kong will ban all flights arriving from the UK from midnight on Monday.
People arriving into Hong Kong from the UK prior to Dec 22 must quarantine for a total of 21 days, versus the previously mandated 14 days of quarantine. Chan said the government was monitoring whether to extend the quarantine duration for all arrivals.
Hong Kong saw a spike in the number of cases at the end of November which prompted authorities to once again shut down dining in restaurants after 6pm and close gyms and beauty salons. The measures will be in place until at least Jan 6, Chan said.
India also said on Monday that it will temporarily suspend all flights from the UK until the end of the year.
The ban will come into effect on Wednesday and all passengers arriving from Britain before then will be tested on arrival at airports, India's federal aviation ministry said in a series of tweets.
Britain is one of the 23 countries that India shares an "air bubble" with, as part of temporary bilateral arrangements after regular international flights were suspended after the pandemic hit.
Hours before the aviation ministry's announcement, India's health minister said that authorities remained vigilant and prepared to deal with the new virus strain, adding that there was no need to panic.
India has recorded the world's second highest number of infections and breached the 10 million case milestone over the weekend. More than 145,000 people have died from COVID-19.
READ: Hong Kong bans dining in restaurants, announces new restrictions to curb 'severe' COVID-19 wave
OTHER COUNTRIES MONITORING NEW STRAIN
South Korea, which imposes a 14-day quarantine for everyone entering the country, said on Monday it was reviewing new measures for flights from the UK, and would test those coming in from Britain twice before they were released from quarantine.
Taiwan, which also has a 14-day quarantine, said on Sunday there were no plans at present to stop flights from Britain.
Japan, where entry from Britain is already banned in principle, said it would keep in close touch with other countries as well as the World Health Organization to see how the new type of virus was spreading.
CNA has contacted Singapore authorities on whether there are plans to review existing guidelines for flights from Britain.