Several countries have imposed a travel ban on South Africa and its neighbouring after the South African authorities detected a new coronavirus variant'.
New Delhi: Just when the world, including India, was trying to return to normalcy, bracing months of Corona-infused Lockdown and restrictions, bad news seemed to have visited the human race yet again.
The news of a new variant has unnerved certain countries in the west and has alarmed others.
The Union Health Ministry in India ordered states and Union Territories to screen and test South Africa, Hong Kong, and Botswana travellers.
The major alert message came after South African authorities detected a new coronavirus variant' that reportedly has an unusual constellation of mutations.
In a communication to all states and Union Territories, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had informed the Centre that multiple cases of a Covid-19 variant B.1.1529 had been reported in South Africa, Botswana, and Hong Kong.
However, there was no such case reported from India. A new variant has been named Omicron by the WHO, and one BBC report has quoted scientists describing it as "horrific". The new variant has also thrown the global stock markets out of gear as fears of new travel bans.
The benchmark indices at BSE and NSE fell sharply by nearly 3 per cent on Friday, November 26, as concerns mounted over the new Covid variant. There was anxiety around US central bank likely to wrap up its stimulus programme and raise interest rates.
Britain, Israel, Belgium and Italy have already pressed the panic button. Belgium has detected the first case of the new coronavirus variant.
Closer home Hong Kong reported one case and is directly linked to travel to South Africa. There have been 77 confirmed cases in South Africa and four cases in Botswana.
Israel on Friday imposed a travel ban on most African states after reporting cases of a new and potentially 'vaccine-resistant coronavirus'. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett widened a ban announced on the entry of foreigners from seven African countries.
Britain has banned flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries and asked British travellers returning from there to quarantine. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa on the issue.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also said: "We are taking the news about the new highly mutated COVID variant very seriously. It is now important that all of us in Europe act very swiftly, decisively and united".
"The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems," German Health Minister Jens Spahn said.
Italy's health ministry also announced measures to ban entry into Italy of anyone who has been in seven southern African nations — South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini.
The Netherlands also said it is planning similar measures. Japan also said it would tighten border controls for people arriving from six African nations.
The World Health Organization will be holding a special session to flesh out information about the new variant.
International Flights from December 15
India has meanwhile decided to resume scheduled international flights from December 15 after the coronavirus-induced suspension.
The Civil Aviation Ministry said the resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services had been examined in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs, External Affairs and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.