Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday chaired a 2-hour long comprehensive meeting with top officials amid rising concerns over new Covid-19 strain Omicron in India.
He spoke about the need to be proactive in light of the new variant. Officials briefed PM Modi about the new variant along with its characteristics & impact seen in various countries.
Cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba and Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan, PK Mishra and NITI Aayog member Dr VK Paul attended the meeting called by the prime minister.
The implications of the newly detected variant for India were also discussed.
The new variant is learnt to be even more infectious than the Delta.
Here’s a look at the most important developments:
Mumbai makes genome sequencing must
Mumbai has made quarantine and genome sequencing of travellers from South Africa mandatory, the city’s mayor said on Saturday.
Genome sequencing is a technique that reads and interprets genetic information. A ‘genome’ contains information about the make-up of an organism.
No case of Omicron strain in India
No case of the new variant has been detected in India so far, health ministry has said.
However, in the wake of multiple cases of the new Covid-19 variant (B.1.1.1529)reported in Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong, the Centre has asked states to conduct “rigorous screening and testing” of all international travellers coming from and transiting through these countries.
“It is therefore imperative that all international travellers travelling from and transiting through these countries, (they are part of the “at risk” country category of international travellers coming to India) and also including all other “at risk” countries indicated in the revised guidelines for international arrivals issued by this ministry dated 11.11.2021, are subjected to rigorous screening and testing, as per health ministry guidelines,” health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said in a letter to all states on Thursday.
WHO calls it a ‘variant of concern’
The WHO has designated it as a “variant of concern”, naming it ‘Omicron” after a letter in the Greek alphabet.
The Delta variant remains by far the most infectious and has crowded out other once-worrying variant. The WHO has classified Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta as variants of concern so far.
Omicron can evade body’s immune response
The variant — called B.1.1.529 — has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, which are concerning because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible.
The very high number of mutations is a concern for predicted immune evasion and transmissibility. The variant, reportedly, has 32 mutations in the spike protein — the part of the virus that most vaccines use to prime the immune system against Covid.
Mutations in the spike protein can affect the virus’s ability to infect cells and spread, but also make it harder for immune cells to attack the pathogen.
Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, described Omicron as “the most heavily mutated version of the virus we have seen, “including potentially worrying changes never before seen in the same virus.”
Countries impose travel ban to prevent spread
In order to prevent spread of the new strain, United States, Canada, Russia, Britain, Israel and a host of other countries have banned all travel from the country to prevent it from taking hold in populations and spreading quickly.
The UK banned flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries and announced that anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a Covid-19 tests.
Australia has also imposed curbs on people who have been to nine southern African countries, as the new variant raises concerns of another wave of the pandemic.
The countries are South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique.
The Australian government will also suspend all flights from the nine southern African countries for two weeks.
New York declares state of emergency
As global concerns rise about the new coronavirus variant, governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency in New York.
The new measures in New York, where Covid-19 caused thousands of deaths in 2020, will take effect December 3.
Rates of positive tests in New York have crept up recently, even as vaccination rates have improved, with some counties recording positivity rates of more than 10%.
Dozens of Covid cases found on flight from South Africa
Dutch health authorities have said that dozens of people who arrived in Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa on Friday are likely infected with Covid-19.
Further tests are being conducted to see if people are infected with the recently discovered Omicron coronavirus variant.