Maharashtra government on Monday announced a night curfew in the state starting December 22, reported PTI. The Uddhav Thackeray-led government has also decided to quarantine passengers arriving from Europe and Middle East for two weeks. The decisions came after a new strain of coronavirus spreading faster than other variants was detected in the United Kingdom and found to be “out of control”.

The curfew will be imposed between 11 pm and 6 am and will stay in effect till January 5. Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal said that the curfew was imposed to put restrictions on Christmas and New Year celebrations in the city, PTI reported. He assured that essential services will not be affected.

“More than five people cannot assemble outside during the specified hours,” he said, according to the Hindustan Times. “So, offices that function overnight or something like dairy transportation can still operate. Taxis, cars and auto rickshaws will also run just like before.”

As for passengers coming from abroad, those flying from European and Middle East nations will be sent to 14-day institutional quarantine while others have to isolate at their homes for a similar period, according to NDTV. The rule will apply to all passengers, even if they do not show symptoms of Covid-19. Those showing symptoms will be admitted to the BMC-run Seven Hills Hospital at Marol area, Chahal told PTI.

According to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, around 1,000 passengers are expected to arrive at the city airport by five flights from the UK till December 22 midnight.

Earlier during the day, India suspended flight services from the UK from December 22 to December 31. The Ministry of Civil Aviation said that passengers arriving from the UK in all transit flights – ones that have taken off or those reaching India before 11.59 pm on December 22 – should be subject to a mandatory real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, or an RT-PCR test, on arrival at the airports.

The new strain

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said the new strain “may be up to 70% more transmissible than the old variant” although there was no evidence it was more deadly or led to a more severe illness. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that the new strain of the virus was “out of control” and said the situation was “deadly serious”. “It’s going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out,” Hancock had told Sky News.

The new variant in the UK was first seen in mid-September in London and Kent. By December, it had become the “dominant variant” in London. The new variant contains 23 different changes, many associated with how it binds to cells and enters them, reported Reuters.

Nearly a third of England’s population has entered a lockdown, four days before Christmas, as authorities try to rein in the pandemic. The new variant of the virus has spread rapidly in London and South East England.

Johnson had on Saturday asked the people to cancel their Christmas plans and stay home as the new strain was spreading more quickly. 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 mutation of the virus has worried experts across the world as drug manufacturers are still in the preliminary stages of the vaccine against Covid-19. On Sunday, Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn said that experts in the European Union believed the current vaccines being developed against Covid-19 will be effective against the new strain, reported AFP.