The Karnataka government on Saturday said that it will test passengers arriving from South Africa, Botswana, and Hong Kong for coronavirus amid growing concerns over the new Omicron variant of the virus, NDTV reported, citing a government circular. Those who test positive will be placed under 10-day quarantine.

The government has also asked passengers arriving from Maharashtra and Kerala to show RT-PCR test reports before entering Karnataka.

“No entry into the cities for those who test positive,” Karnataka Chief Minister Basavraj Bommai said, according to The Indian Express. “Those who test positive at airports would be sent to hospitals for treatment.”

Meanwhile, the Karnataka government had sent samples of two South African passengers, who had tested positive for the virus in Bengaluru on November 20, for genome sequencing, NDTV reported. They were infected by the Delta variant.

The call for rigorous testing of international passengers for coronavirus in Karnataka comes a day after the Centre’s direction for the same to all the states.

The central government had said that the new variant of coronavirus, Omicron, could have serious public health implications for India. The new strain has been classified as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization on Saturday.

A “variant of concern” has the highest threat perception among other coronavirus variants because of its increased transmissibility, infectivity, or resistance to vaccines. The threat perception for a “variant of interest” is comparatively lower.

The growing concerns around the virus also prompted the Karnataka government to announce an aggressive campaign to curb coronavirus cases in the state, The Indian Express reported.

The chief minister, during a high-level meeting on Saturday, asked the health authorities to trace people who are yet to take the second dose of the coronavirus vaccine and inoculate them on priority.

The government has also imposed a temporary ban on cultural programmes in schools and colleges.

Experts’ concerns

Health experts have requested people to be cautious following news of the Omicron variant.

Virologist Gagandeep Kang, who has been involved in research that focuses on viral infections in children, said that new variant of coronavirus could be more transmissible, India Today reported.

“Since we have the first identification on November 9, we already have a good sense of sequence data,” she said. “We know that this is a strain that has mutations unlike the constellations that have been seen previously. So there are chances that it will spread more easily, and some chances that it may be able to evade immune response.”

She added that the variant may have reached several places already.

Meanwhile, World Health Organization’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said that the Omicron variant should serve as a “wake-up call” for covid-appropriate behavior in India, NDTV reported. She also said that masks are an effective tool to keep the virus at bay.