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PM Modi takes stock of Covid-19 situation amid worldwide danger of new variant detected on South Africa

PM Narendra Modi. (File Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday advised officials to be more cautious over any plans to ease restrictions on international travel as the new Omicron coronavirus variant detected in South Africa has raised fears worldwide about a fresh surge in the pandemic.

The Prime Minister spoke about the need to monitor all international arrivals and conduct Covid tests as per existing guidelines, with a specific focus on 'at risk' countries.

The Prime Minister chaired a meeting, to take stock of the Covid-19 situation in the country, with senior officials including the Cabinet Secretary, the Health Secretary, and the chief of India's Covid task force.

The meeting was held amid worries over the B.1.1.529 or Omicron strain, which has been red flagged for "an alarmingly high number of mutations" that might make it more resistant to vaccines and increase transmissibility.

PM Modi spoke about the need to be proactive in light of the new variant. He said that in light of the new threat, people need to be more cautious and the need to take proper precautions like wearing masks and social distancing.

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The Prime Minister 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 the early warning signal identified for Covid-19 management. The 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 presently. The PM also asked that awareness needs to be created about ventilation and air-borne behaviour of the virus.

The PM also instructed officials to coordinate with states to ensure that there are adequate buffer stocks of various medicines. He asked officials to work with the states to review the functioning of medical infrastructure including pediatric facilities.

PM Modi asked officials to co-ordinate with states to ensure proper functioning of PSA oxygen plants and ventilators.

There is serious concern worldwide as there has been a ten-fold increase in coronavirus infections in South Africa since the new variant was detected.  Some infections due to the Omicron strain have also been reported from Botswana, Hong Kong, Israel, and Belgium in air passengers arriving from South Africa.

The new variant has 30 mutations in the spike protein alone, according to Tulio de Oliveira, director of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform.  The spike protein is targeted by antibodies that the immune system of vaccinated people becomes capable of producing. However, with such a large number of mutations in the spike protein the fears are that some of them may not be neutralised by the antibodies.