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Coronavirus News LIVE Updates: Govt to Review SoP, Resumption Date of Scheduled Int'l Flights

Coronavirus News LIVE Updates: Britain, Germany and Italy detected cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant on Saturday.

Coronavirus News LIVE Updates: The government on Sunday decided to review the decision on resuming scheduled commercial international passenger services as well SOP on testing and surveillance of incoming passengers, especially from countries identified as ‘at risk’, in the wake of the emergence of the new COVID-19 variant of concern ‘Omicron’. The decisions were taken at an urgent meeting chaired by Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla and attended by various stakeholders, an official spokesperson said. The meeting was held a day after a high-level review by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the new COVID-19 variant of concern ‘Omicron’.

After a long hiatus of more than 20 months, the government had on November 26 announced the resumption of scheduled international commercial flights from December 15. The home ministry spokesperson said at the meeting, chaired by the home secretary, the overall global situation in the wake of the Omicron virus was comprehensively reviewed and various preventive measures in place and to be further strengthened were discussed.

Maldives said it was barring travellers from seven African countries from Sunday over concerns about the new Omicron variant of COVID-19. Travellers will not be allowed into Maldives from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho and Eswatini, the health ministry said in a statement.

Israel is to close its borders to all foreigners later Sunday in a bid to stem the spread of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus, authorities said. “The entry of foreign nationals into Israel is banned except for cases approved by a special committee,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement, adding that the measure would take effect on Sunday evening. Israeli citizens will be required to present a negative PCR test and quarantine themselves for three days if they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus and seven days if they have not. It was only four weeks ago that Israel reopened its borders to foreign tourists after a prolonged closure due to Covid.

Meanwhile, health officials said Sunday they had detected the Covid Omicron strain in Australia for the first time after testing two passengers from southern Africa who flew into Sydney. The eastern state of New South Wales’ health authority said it had conducted urgent genomic testing and confirmed the new strain was present in two passengers who arrived Saturday in Sydney.

Britain, Germany and Italy detected cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant on Saturday and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new steps to contain the virus, while more nations imposed restrictions on travel from southern Africa.

The discovery of the variant has sparked global concern, a wave of travel bans or curbs and a sell-off on financial markets on Friday as investors worried that Omicron could stall a global recovery from the nearly two-year pandemic.

Israel said it would ban the entry of all foreigners into the country and reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to contain the spread of the variant.

The two linked cases of Omicron detected in Britain were connected to travel to southern Africa, British health minister Sajid Javid said.

Johnson laid out measures that included stricter testing rules for people arriving in the country but that stopped short of curbs on social activity other than requiring mask wearing in some settings.

“We will require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival and to self-isolate until they have a negative result,” Johnson told a news conference.

People who had come into contact with people testing positive for a suspected case of Omicron would have to self-isolate for 10 days and the government would tighten the rules on wearing face coverings, Johnson said, adding the steps would be reviewed in three weeks.

The health ministry in the German state of Bavaria also announced two confirmed cases of the variant. The two people entered Germany at Munich airport on Nov. 24, before Germany designated South Africa as a virus-variant area, and were now isolating, said the ministry, indicating without stating explicitly that the people had travelled from South Africa.

In Italy, the National Health Institute said a case of the new variant had been detected in Milan in a person coming from Mozambique.

Czech health authorities also said they were examining a suspected case of the variant in a person who spent time in Namibia.

Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, is potentially more contagious than previous variants of the disease, although experts do not know yet if it will cause more or less severe COVID-19 compared to other strains.

England’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Witty, said at the same news conference as Johnson that there was still much uncertainty around Omicron, but “there is a reasonable chance that at least there will be some degree of vaccine escape with this variant”.

The variant was first discovered in South Africa and had also since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.

Indian States Ready Response

Amid rising fears of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus globally, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) held a meeting in which they decided that they will issue fresh guidelines for airport authorities.

Travellers from African countries where cases of the new coronavirus variant Omicron have been found should be screened, Mumbai municipal commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal directed officials. Passports of international passengers should be checked at the Mumbai airport and medical tests should be conducted if a person has been to any of the African countries where the new variant has been found, he instructed.

If found positive for infection, such a person should be institutionally quarantined, Chahal said, according to an official release. Samples of such passengers should be sent for genome sequencing, he added. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation had called a meeting of various authorities including police, airport, superintendents of major civic hospitals, executive health officers and members of Maharashtra’s Covid-19 task force in the evening to discuss precautions to be taken in view of concerns over Omicron.

There are no direct flights to Mumbai from African countries, but as a precautionary measure, Chahal directed the airport administration to collect information of the last fortnight’s journey of all international arrivals. Jumbo Covid Centers of the BMC should be re-inspected to ensure that they are functioning properly and vaccination should be accelerated, he said.

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