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Omicron scare: Modi calls for rethink on easing of travel curbs

Our Bureau | | Updated on: Nov 27, 2021
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Several nations in Europe ban entry of travellers from South Africa, neighbouring countries; WTO postpones ministerial conference

Just a day after the Centre announced its intention of resuming scheduled international flights from December 15, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting with senior officials asking them to review plans for easing of international travel restrictions in light of the emergence of the new Covid-19 variant, ‘Omicron’. The WHO has already classified it as a ‘variant of concern’.

This  comes close on the heels of several nations in Europe banning the entry of travellers from South Africa and neighbouring countries. Some, like Switzerland, have also decided to place quarantine restrictions on travellers from countries such as Belgium and Hong Kong where the virus has been detected, forcing the World Trade Organization to postpone its high profile Ministerial Conference that was scheduled in Geneva next week.

‘At risk’ category

“PM highlighted the need for monitoring all international arrivals, their testing as per guidelines, with a specific focus on countries identified ‘at risk’,” according to an official release on the PM’s meeting with senior officials on Saturday. The Health Ministry, on Friday, put all countries in Europe, including the UK and South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel, under the ‘at risk’ category.

Concerns around the new variant are magnified as pharmaceutical majors, Pfizer and BioNTech, have stated that they are not sure whether their vaccines would work against ‘Omicron’ and they would need about 100 days to develop a tailor-made vaccine.

Maha’s fresh guidelines

Modi called for a review of plans for easing travel restrictions and directed officials to work closely with States to ensure that there is proper awareness at the State and district levels. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, in a tweet on Saturday, asked Modi to stop flights from all countries affected by the new variant. The Maharashtra government issued fresh guidelines for domestic and international travellers mandating that all domestic travellers should either be fully vaccinated or carry an RT-PCR test valid for 72 hours while those coming from international destinations should follow the Centre’s regulations.

Those who attended the PM’s meet include Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba,  NITI  Aayog’s VK Paul, NHA CEO RS Sharma, Principal Scientific Advisor K Vijay Raghavan, and Secretaries from all Ministries and Departments concerned including Health, Home, Health & Family Welfare, Pharmaceuticals, AYUSH and Urban Development.

Published on November 27, 2021

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