The emergence of a new Covid-19 variant, reportedly more potent and going by the name of Omicron triggered global alarm on Friday as countries rushed to suspend travel from southern Africa. Precautionary measures were taken after the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that Omicron may spread more quickly than other forms and may lead to reinfection.
The new mutations were first discovered in South Africa and have since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel, and Hong Kong. US, Canada, UK were among the countries to impose traveling curbs on travelers from South Africa. The United States said it will restrict travel from South Africa and neighboring countries effective from Monday. Canada said it was closing its borders to those countries, following bans on flights announced by Britain, Europe, and others.
Joining the bandwagon were also several states in India which laid down rules of quarantine for travelers from South Africa. Scheduled international flights to and from India will be resumed from December 15 after 20 months of coronavirus-induced suspension, the Civil Aviation Ministry had said on Friday. The countries deemed ‘at at risk’ by the Union Health Ministry will be allowed to operate only a certain percentage of their pre-Covid scheduled flights.
Amid fear of the spread of the new contagious variant of Covid-19 found in South Africa, Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar on Saturday said that all the passengers coming to the city from that country will be quarantined. All travelers entering the state from any international destination shall be governed by directions of the Govt of India. Domestic travelers shall either be fully vaccinated or carry an RT-PCR test valid for 72 hours, the official statement said.
Additionally, it was also instructed that defaulters found inside taxi/private transport, 4-wheeler, or inside any bus, along with individual defaulting Covid appropriate behavior will be fined Rs 500. Driver/helper/conductor shall be fined Rs 500, while owner transport agency in cases of buses shall be fined Rs 1000, it said.
Passengers from countries categorized as `at at risk’ by the Union Health Ministry will have to undergo Covid-19 tests upon arrival in Gujarat if they are not fully vaccinated, an official said on Saturday. “As per the letter issued to us on Friday by the Union Health Ministry, RT-PCR test is mandatory for all incoming travelers who do not have vaccination certificate," said state Additional Chief Secretary (Health) Manoj Aggarwal. Those who are fully vaccinated will also be screened at the airport and allowed to proceed if they do not show any symptoms of the infection, he said. There are two international airports in Gujarat one in Ahmedabad and another in Surat. The state has been asked to follow the November 11 guidelines of the Union home ministry.
In the wake of the new covid 19 variant’Omicron’ reported abroad, the health department has issued a caution in the state. Health minister veena George said that Kerala has taken steps as per the guidelines of the Central government. In a press release, she said, “Surveillance will be strengthened in all airports. Currently, there is no reason for concern but everyone should strictly follow the covid guidelines. Everyone should use masks and sanitizers and maintain social distancing. Those who have yet been vaccinated should vaccinate at the earliest."
According to the central guidelines, passengers coming from foreign countries mentioned in the central guidelines will be closely monitored. All passengers arriving in India must undergo an RTPCR test within 72 hours and upload it to the Airsuvidha portal. The suspected samples of passengers from these countries will be sent for testing for the mutant strain said, Veena George.
Amid new covid variant scare, decisions reached a meeting chaired by the Karnataka CM instructed authorities to increase surveillance at Kerala border districts. It also stressed mandatory RT-PCR tests for those arriving from Maharashtra, Kerala. Students who arrived from Kerala 14 days ago must get tested, authorities noted.
The state has intensified precautionary measures at all the four international airports and appointed four health department officials to personally monitor the situation, State Minister Ma Subramanian said. These officials would be stationed at Chennai, Coimbatore, Madurai and Tiruchirappalli airports.
Minister for Medical Education Vishvas Sarang said genome sequencing is being carried out in a speedy manner. He said although nobody has been found infected with Omicron variant in the state so far, the government is keeping an eye on the situation. MUMBAI: Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar said all passengers coming to the city from South Africa will be quarantined.
Meanwhile, hospitals in Delhi have been asked to be on high alert and ensure coronavirus safety measures amid the detection of a new coronavirus variant ‘omicron’ and a surge in cases in other countries. Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal has directed the Chief Secretary, Police Commissioner, and other senior officers of the national capital to ensure strict adherence to all Covid protocols in public places and functions and full preparedness in hospitals to deal with any emergency, sources have told NDTV.
PM Modi Reviews Covid Situation in India
At a meeting to review the Covid situation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on Saturday briefed about the new ‘Omicron’ variant of the coronavirus, and he asked officials to review the plans to ease international travel restrictions in light of the “emerging new evidence".Modi was briefed about the global trends on coronavirus cases and officials highlighted that countries across the world have experienced multiple COVID-19 surges since the onset of the pandemic, a Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) statement said. He said that in view of the new threat, people need to be more cautious and take proper precautions like masking up and maintaining social distance, according to the PMO. The prime minister highlighted the need for monitoring all international arrivals, their testing as per guidelines, with a specific focus on countries identified as ‘at risk’.He also asked the officials to “review plans for easing of international travel restrictions in light of the emerging new evidence", the statement said. The meeting was attended by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, and NITI Aayog member (health) Dr. V K Paul, among others.
Too Late For Travel Curbs
Even as countries across the world scrambled to impose travel curbs, One epidemiologist in Hong Kong said it may be too late to tighten travel curbs against the latest variant. “Most likely this virus is already in other places. And so if we shut the door now, it’s going to be probably too late," said Ben Cowling of the University of Hong Kong.
The new COVID-19 variant, first found in South Africa this week, has been designated as a “Variant of Concern" by the World Health Organisation. This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.
The US pharmaceutical company Moderna said on Friday that it will develop a booster shot against the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, Pfizer and BioNTech said that they are not sure whether their vaccines would work against the new COVID-19 variant ‘Omicron’. They however promised to develop a new vaccine against the strain within 100 days.