Passengers arriving at Chennai International Airport from Abu Dhabi are shifted to a quarantine center. Photo: AFP / The Times Of India/Ramesh Shankar

India, the only country besides the United States to have more than 10 million Covid cases, is scrambling to keep the new strain out while ensuring there’s no panic.

Passengers flying in from the UK, Europe and the Middle East are being tested before being allowed into the country.

States are imposing night curfews and other restrictions to ensure India doesn’t lose in the last week of 2020 all the hard-won gains made over months. The country of 1.38 billion has managed to bring down the number of daily cases and deaths to a third of its mid-September peak.

Already half a dozen states have taken measures to ensure large gatherings during Christmas, the last week vacation of many companies, and New Year revelry does not contribute toward resurgence of the virus. India with 10.12 million cases, behind the US’s 18.92 million, has several cities that are perpetually congested.

As the ban on flights from the UK was announced on Monday, airport authorities ensured that all passengers were tested. About 11 of nearly 950 passengers who arrived on Tuesday and Wednesday tested positive. Fifty others who were in contact with them were put in quarantine.

Police check commuters for facemasks in Bangalore. A night curfew was imposed by the state government in a bid to stave off the coronavirus strain sweeping Britain. Photo: Manjunath Kiran/AFP

Authorities are also making efforts to track as many as 14,000 passengers who disembarked in Delhi over the past four weeks to ensure there is no chance of the virus slipping into the country. Mumbai airport too remained crowded as passengers who came in without test certificates were tested before being let in. Even domestic passengers need clear test certificates before entering Mumbai.

As of Thursday, India is free of the new strain of the Covid that’s ravaging the UK, and the Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan is coordinating health issues with UK Health Minister Matt Hancock to prevent any contagion.

Mumbai, which competes with Delhi for overseas travelers, ensured all its quarantine and medical facilities were ready in case any passenger brought the new strain. Maharashtra state banned gatherings of more than five people between 11pm and 6am until January 5 across all cities and municipalities.

While hotels, bars and restaurants in commercial capital Mumbai plan to end New Year’s eve parties at 10:30pm, many people are working out alternative plans at home. The state has 1.91 million cases, the most among all states, with 48,969 deaths out of the 146,756 fatalities in India.

Christian devotees offer prayers at St Mary’s Basilica on December 24, 2020. Photo: Manjunath Kiran/AFP

Neighboring Gujarat has been living with a night curfew for more than a month, while Karnataka and capital Bangalore with a large number of international passengers imposed a night curfew until January 2.

Hill state of Himachal Pradesh, which historically attracts domestic New Year’s eve revelers of several thousands, will keep its night curfew until January 5. Likewise, the desert state of Rajasthan imposed a night curfew from 8pm on December 31 until 6am on January 1.

Punjab, which initially imposed a night curfew across all towns from December 1 to December 15, decided to extend it until January 1. Chief Minister Capt Amrinder Singh said the state had ordered aggressive testing and surveillance as it also receives many overseas residents from the UK and Canada.

Christmas for most faithful across north-eastern states of Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya will be virtual and indoors. Local choir groups plan performances online and some churches have also gone online for the benefit of followers. Almost all northeastern states except Assam have more than 90% Christian populations.

In mid-September the number of active cases in India was close to a million. It is lower than 300,000 now. Almost 9.7 million people have recovered. New daily cases have remained lower than 30,000 for two weeks and daily fatalities have edged close to 300.

For almost a month, recoveries have exceeded new cases in the country. Ten of the 29 states account for 77% of all cases, making it easier for the authorities to isolate spreaders.  Part of the credit goes to aggressive testing. India has conducted 165 million tests, behind 240 million in the US. China has tested 160 million people.