Prime Minister Narendra Modi today urged caution on the new Covid variant 'Omicron' as he spoke before the start of the Winter Session of Parliament. He had held a Covid review meet on the weekend amid concerns about the new strain found in South Africa.
"Reports of a new variant are making us even more alert. I appeal to parliament and all of you to be cautious as every citizen's health is a priority in this hour of crisis," PM Modi told reporters in his customary remarks ahead of the session.
Since the last session, PM Modi said, more than 100 crore doses of vaccine had been given and the country is now moving towards the 150 crore-mark.
The WHO on Friday declared Omicron a "Variant of Concern", placing the new strain into the most troubling category of Covid variants, along with Delta, and its weaker rivals Alpha, Beta and Gamma.
The government is planning tightened travel rules and checks for visitors, with cases emerging in Botswana, Italy, Hong Kong, Australia, Belgium, United kingdom, Denmark, Germany, Canada, Israel and Czech Republic.
The cases in Hong Kong are particularly troubling because the two patients (arrivals from southern Africa) had been quarantined in separate rooms, suggesting the B.1.1.529 variant is airborne.
Several countries have already imposed travel bans and restrictions on flights to and from South Africa and neighbouring countries.
At his meeting with officials and experts on Saturday, PM Modi reportedly called for a review of plans to ease travel restrictions.
He stressed on the need to monitor all international arrivals and for Covid tests with a focus on those arriving from countries designated as 'at risk' by the Health Ministry.
Omicron has been red-flagged for "an alarmingly high number of mutations" that might make it more resistant to vaccines, increase transmissibility and lead to more severe symptoms.