South Africa arrivals at Mumbai airport to face quarantine
Passengers arriving at the Mumbai airport from South Africa will be quarantined, the city's Mayor announced on Saturday. Genome sequencing of those who test positive for the coronavirus will also be done. It is a process that helps identify which variant of COVID-19 caused the infection. The fresh curbs come amid concerns over a new strain, Omicron, which is most prevalent in South Africa.
Why does it matter?
- These are the strictest set of restrictions in India so far due to the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
- It is the most heavily mutated version of the virus discovered yet.
- The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified it as a Variant of Concern.
- Several countries around the world have announced sweeping air travel curbs to and from South Africa and neighboring nations.
Mayor's appeal to stop the 'new menace'
"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," Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar said. She urged people to continue maintaining distancing and wearing masks to stop "this new menace."
PM Modi holds meet on COVID-19 situation
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting with government officials to review the COVID-19 situation in the country. The central government had earlier this week written to states asking them to rigorously screen passengers coming from countries where the new strain has been detected. However, just last evening, India announced the restarting of regular international flights from mid-December.
Stop flights from affected nations: Delhi CM
Meanwhile, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has urged PM Modi to suspend all flights from countries that have reported cases of the Omicron variant. "We should do everything possible to prevent this new variant from entering India," he tweeted on Saturday.
New strain has nearly 50 mutations
Omicron has some 50 mutations, including over 30 in the spike protein alone. South Africa has reported just above 50 cases of the strain but there are concerns the actual tally could be higher. Cases have also been detected in Botswana, Hong Kong, Israel, and Belgium. Early evidence suggests the strain poses an increased risk of re-infection, the WHO said.
Several countries impose travel curbs
Many countries have restricted travel to and from southern African nations. They include the European Union, the United Kingdom, United States, and Australia, among others. South Africa, on the other hand, has criticized the restrictions calling them "rushed" and "unjustified." The WHO has also warned countries against hastily imposing travel curbs saying they should consider a "risk-based and scientific approach."