Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Monday said that the Indian government is alert and there was no need to panic over worries about a fast-spreading new variant of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom, ANI reported.

His comments came minutes after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal requested the Centre to ban flights from the United Kingdom. “[A] New mutation of corona virus has emerged in UK, which is a super-spreader,” Kejriwal tweeted. “I urge central government to ban all flights from UK immediately.”

Vardhan, while responding to a question on the demands for a flight ban, said, “these [are] imaginary situations, imaginary talks and imaginary panic”, PTI reported. “The government is fully conscious about everything,” he added. “If you ask me, there is no reason to panic the way we are seeing in this press conference.”

The health ministry’s joint Covid-19 joint monitoring group had called a meeting on Monday to discuss the new mutant coronavirus strain.

Several countries, including France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Italy, Argentina and Chile, have banned flights to the UK amid concerns that the new coronavirus strain seems to spread more easily. However, experts say it is unclear if that is the case or whether they pose any concern for vaccines or lead to more severe infections.

In November, India had extended the ban on international flights till December 31. The country, though, has an air bubble agreement with the UK and several others. This pact allows the operation of special flights between the countries.

Nearly a third of England’s population has entered a lockdown, four days before Christmas, as authorities warned that the new strain of the virus was going “out of control”. The new variant of the virus has spread rapidly in London and South East England. The country’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty had announced that the new variant “can spread more quickly” than prior strains of the virus.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had on Saturday appealed to the people to cancel their Christmas plans and stay home. He announced a new Tier-4 level of restrictions cancelling plans for relaxed Christmas norms. London, which till now was in Tier 3 with the strict restrictions, was moved up to Tier 4, the highest level of curbs.

The UK has so far registered more than 20.46 lakh coronavirus cases and 67,503 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University. India, with more than 1 crore cases and 1,45,810 deaths, is the world’s second-worst-affected country.

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