Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Tuesday said that the ban on flights between India and the United Kingdom was likely to be extended beyond December 31, reported The Times of India.

“A decision will be taken shortly,” Puri said during a press conference on civil aviation issues. “But I personally foresee a small, slight extension of the temporary suspension beyond December 31,” Puri said. The minister added that he does not see the extension to be “long or indefinite,” according to ANI.

Earlier in the day, the Union Health Ministry said that six cases of the new mutant strain of the coronavirus were reported in the country.

India had on December 21 suspended flight services from the UK till December 31 after Britain’s health minister said a new coronavirus mutation – spreading faster than other variants – was “out of control”. The UK is one of 23 countries with which India has an “air bubble”.

More than 50 countries, including Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Germany, Canada, Lebanon and Singapore, have imposed travel restrictions on the UK, in an effort to prevent the spread of the new variant.

The new UK virus variant, which scientists have named “VUI – 202012/01”, includes a genetic mutation in the “spike” protein, which could result in coronavirus spreading more easily between people. It was first announced by Matt Hancock, the UK health secretary, on December 14, and was subsequently confirmed by Public Health England and the UK’s Covid-19 sequencing consortium. Screening back through databases of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes Covid-19, the first sample was taken in the county of Kent on September 20.

The variant carries 14 defining mutations including seven in the spike protein, which mediates entry of the virus into human cells. This is a relatively large number of changes compared to the many variants in circulation globally. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has claimed that this was as much as 70% more transmissible than previous versions. But there is currently no evidence that the variant is more likely to cause severe coronavirus infections or that it would render vaccines less effective.

The World Health Organization had also on December 22 tried to allay the concerns and said the strain could be controlled using existing measures.