India on Omicron alert as 2 South African nationals test positive in Bengaluru

India on Omicron alert as 2 South African nationals test positive in Bengaluru

India went on high-alert on Saturday, as two South African nationals tested COVID positive at the Kempegowda International Airport in Bengaluru, while PM Narendra Modi earlier in the day advised officials to review plans to ease restrictions on international travel in light of concern over the new coronavirus variant, Omicron (B.1.1.529).

The central government had on Thursday told all states and UTs to ensure rigorous screening and testing of travellers from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong, where the new variant has been found.

Further tests would ascertain whether the South African nationals are infected with the Omicron variant and will take another 48 hours, media reports quoted health department officials as saying in Bengaluru.

In Delhi, Lt Governor Anil Baijal instructed senior officials to ensure strict adherence to COVID-appropriate behaviour at public places and preparedness at hospitals to deal with any emergency situation.

The PM on Saturday spoke at a meeting with the cabinet secretary, health secretary, the chief of the country’s COVID-19 task force and other officials.

The call to review easing of travel restrictions comes less than a day after the government said scheduled international flights could resume from December 15, but only for countries not deemed ‘at risk’ by the health ministry.

The B.1.1.529 strain has been red-flagged for “an alarmingly high number of mutations” that might make it more resistant to vaccines, increase transmissibility and lead to more severe symptoms.

The variant was first detected in South Africa, and has been reported from Botswana, Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium. It is believed to have 50 mutations, including over 30 on the spike protein and 10 on the receptor binding domain.

Also read: Centre issues alert on S African COVID variant, rigorous screening on

Meanwhile, passengers arriving at Mumbai airport from South Africa will be quarantined, the city’s mayor said. Genome sequencing of passengers, if found positive, will also be done, the mayor said.

“There are concerns in Mumbai about the new variant of coronavirus. Genome sequencing of [positive] passengers coming from South Africa will be done. There is no restriction on outbound flights in any way. But this decision has been taken keeping in view past experience,” Kishori Pednekar said.

“There is an increased risk of COVID-19 in other nations, so those coming from abroad will have to undergo genome test. I request everyone to maintain social distancing and wear masks so that this new menace can be stopped,” Pednekar said.

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