PM calls for review of plans for easing I’ntltravel curbs

TNN Bureau. Updated: 11/28/2021 11:58:28 AM Front Page

New Delhi: As concerns grow over a new COVID variant, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday called for a proactive approach and a review of plans for easing of international travel curbs and urged people to be more cautious while several states moved quickly to take precautionary measures and remain vigilant.
Two South African returnees to Bengaluru, meanwhile, tested positive for COVID-19 and their samples sent for further tests to determine the exact variant, said a Karnataka state official.
Modi, who was briefed by officials about the recently discovered variant Omicron during a comprehensive meeting here to review the public health preparedness and COVID-19 vaccination, also highlighted the need for monitoring all international arrivals, their testing as per guidelines, with a specific focus on countries identified 'at risk'.
Officials briefed the prime minister about the new Variant of Concern Omicron along with its characteristics and the impact seen in various countries, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said in a statement.
The implications of the variant for India were also discussed, it said. The Omicron variant, which scientists say has a high number of mutations, was first detected in South Africa last week A World Health Organisation(WHO) panel has classified it as a highly transmissible variant of concern, the same category that includes the Delta variant.
During the meeting which lasted for about two hours, Prime Minister Modi spoke about the need to be proactive in the light of the new variant and urged people to be more cautious and take proper precautions like masking up and maintaining social distance, the PMO statement said. The WHO also asserted that at no cost should "we let our guard down."
Modi asked "officials to review plans for easing of international travel restrictions in light of the emerging new evidence", the statement said, even as Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal urged the prime minister to stop flights coming to India from those countries which are affected by the new variant.
The prime minister's directive to officials came a day after the Civil Aviation Ministry announced the resumption of scheduled international flights to and from India from December 15 after 20 months of coronavirus-induced suspension.
India's decision to resume scheduled international passenger flights also came at a time when various countries such as the UK, Germany, Singapore, Israel, France and Italy have restricted air travel from southern Africa where the cases of new coronavirus variant with serious health implications have been reported.
In a tweet after the meeting, Modi said, "reviewed the COVID-19 and vaccination-related situation. In light of the new variant, we remain vigilant, with a focus on containment and ensuring increased second dose coverage."
During the meeting, the prime minister was also given an overview of the sequencing efforts in the country and the variants circulating in the country, the PMO statement said.
Modi directed that genome sequencing samples be collected from international travellers and community as per norms, tested through the network of labs already established under the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) and early warning signals identified for COVID-19 management, the statement said.
Prime Minister Modi also spoke about the need to increase the sequencing efforts and make it more broad-based.
Bengaluru Rural Deputy Commissioner K Srinivas, under whose jurisdiction Kempegowda International Airport comes, told reporters that from (November) 1 to 26 a total of 94 people have come from South Africa and out of them two have tested positive for COVID-19.
Both the infected persons have been quarantined, are being monitored by authorities and their samples sent for further tests to ascertain the variant, he said.
The WHO asked countries in the southeast Asia region to scale up surveillance, strengthen public health and social measures, and enhance vaccination coverage.
The global health body said festivities and celebrations must include all precautionary measures and crowds and large gatherings must be avoided.
"At no cost should we let our guard down," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO, South-East Asia Region, adding that countries must enhance surveillance and sequencing.
Based on updated information on circulating variants and response capacities, countries should assess the risk of importation through international travel and take measures accordingly, she said.
In a tweet, Chief Minister Kejriwal emphasised that the country had "recovered" from the COVID-19 pandemic with "great difficulty".
"I urge Hon'ble PM to stop flights from those countries which are affected by new variant. With great difficulty, our country has recovered from Corona. We shud do everything possible to prevent this new variant from entering India," Kejriwal tweeted.
Meanwhile, as much as 64 per cent of respondents in a survey conducted over the decision to allow scheduled international operations to and from India want the government to reconsider it in the wake of the emergence of the new coronavirus variant.
The survey was carried out by the online platform LocalCircles immediately after the government announced the resumption of scheduled international flight services, which remain suspended since March 2020 due to the pandemic.
Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi also expressed concern over the emergence of the new coronavirus variant and asked the government to provide vaccine security to the people of the country.
The Union Health Ministry on Friday said the countries in Europe, including the United Kingdom, and South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel have been put in the 'at-risk' category.

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