India to reimpose flight curbs as WHO warns of new Covid threat

Amid concerns about the new highly transmissible and more lethal Wuhan virus variant, Omricon, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has directed top officials to review norms for international travel, especially to countries where the new strain has been reported.

The decision was taken at a comprehensive high level meeting to review the situation relating to Covid-19 and vaccination. 
Modi’s crucial meet comes against the backdrop of the new Wuhan virus variant Omicron, which was first discovered in South Africa and has been classified as a highly transmissible Virus of Concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Several nations, including the US, Britain, Germany, Singapore, Israel, France and Italy have restricted air travel, from South Africa and nearby nations to prevent the spread of the new strain.
Briefing about the new Variant of Concern ‘Omicron’ along with its characteristics, impact in various countries and implications for India, the prime minister said there is a need to be proactive in light of the new mutant strain that is highly transmissible and more lethal.
Officials briefed PM about the new Variant of Concern ‘Omicron’ along with its characteristics and the impact seen in various countries. Its implications for India were also discussed. PM spoke about the need to be proactive in light of the new variant. 
PM said that in light of the new threat, people need to be more cautious and need to take proper precautions like masking and social distancing. PM highlighted the need for monitoring all international arrivals, their testing as per guidelines, with a specific focus on countries identified ‘at risk’. PM also asked officials to review  plans for easing of international travel restrictions in light of the emerging new evidence.
PM was given an overview of the sequencing efforts in the country and the variants circulating in the country. PM directed that genome sequencing samples be collected from international travellers and community as per norms, tested through the network of labs already established under INSACOG and early warning signal identified for management of the pandemic. PM spoke about the need to increase the sequencing efforts and make it more broad-based.
He also directed officials to work closely with state governments to ensure that there is proper awareness at the state and district level. He directed that intensive containment and active surveillance should continue in clusters reporting higher cases and required technical support be provided to states which are reporting higher cases at present. PM also asked that awareness needs to be created about ventilation and air-borne behaviour of the virus.
Officials briefed PM that they are following a facilitative approach to newer pharmaceutical products. PM instructed officials to coordinate with states to ensure that there is adequate buffer stocks of various medicines. He asked officials to work with the states to review the functioning of medical infrastructure, including paediatric facilities.
PM asked officials to co-ordinate with states to endure proper functioning of PSA oxygen plants and ventilators.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday warned member countries of a new, more deadly variant of the Wuhan virus, which the global body described as a “variant of concern.” WHO has named the B.1.1.529 strain, first detected in South Africa, as 'Omicron,' after the fifteenth letter of the Greek alphabet.
"Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology... the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a variant of concern (VOC), named Omicron," WHO stated, adding that the B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24 November 2021.
The United Nations' health body has warned that the variant has a large number of mutations.
"This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa," the WHO said in a statement on Friday.
The health body has recommended that countries enhance their surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand the circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants.
The new strain has since been found in Hong Kong, Israel and in Belgium, perhaps the fist case in  Europe of the new Wuhan virus variant.
India’s ministry of external affairs on Friday said that the new COVID variant was "a developing incident."
"As regards the issue of the South African variant, this is a developing incident. We just saw a report of and briefing by WHO. I don't have any immediate information on the steps we are taking. It is an issue more for our health authorities. This is a very developing story," MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.
The currently available vaccines against Covid-19 appear to be effective against the newly detected Omicron Covid variant, South Africa's health minister Joe Phaahla said.
According to Phaahla, vaccines are still effective in preventing severe Covid from the variant, CNBC reported. Phaahla added that the Omicron variant may be more transmissible due to its genetic composition.