The United Kingdom defended its continuation of direct flights from India despite a 28% rise in cases of the B1.617.2 variant in two days.
The UK "cannot ban its own citizens from returning home," Transport Minister Grant Shapps told Sky News Thursday, adding that all passengers on Indian flights are either British or Irish citizens or permanent residence holders with the right of abode in the British Isles.
A ban could prompt people to "spread amongst many other flights," he added, consequently "making it harder to carry out the mandatory hotel quarantine."
India was added to the UK's highest-risk red country list on April 23 in order to "protect the country against a new variant of coronavirus (COVID-19) and against other existing variants," according to a news release from the Department of Transport.
About 2,967 cases of the B1.617.2 variant, which was first detected in India, have now been identified in the UK, Health Minister Matt Hancock told the House of Commons Wednesday. This represents a 28% increase on the 2,323 cases reported Monday.
The transport minister reiterated his calls for UK citizens not to visit amber or red list countries for vacations, emphasizing that travel to these countries is only for essential purposes.
He said there was a "heck of a lot of hassle" involved in traveling to an amber country, such as France or Italy, citing the need for three Covid tests upon return and the completion of a five-day home quarantine.
"We're not at the stage of, you know, saying to people: 'Go to those places on holiday.' In fact, please don't," he added.