Here are the latest updates about the new coronavirus variant from Thursday:

  1. Two cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 have been detected in Karnataka, the health ministry said at a press conference. The Indian Council of Medical Research chief Dr Balram Bhargava said that there was no need to panic but maintaining awareness was essential. He said the cases were found after genome sequencing of Covid-19 positive samples were conducted. Union Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said that so far 373 cases of the variant have been reported in 29 countries.
  2. At the press conference, Agarwal also said that 10 passengers who arrived in India till 8 am in the morning since the new guidelines came into force have tested positive for the coronavirus. Their samples have been sent for genome sequencing. He asked the states to ensure availability of oxygen and medicines and strengthen the health infrastructure. Agarwal said that available evidence suggest that Omicron is spreading faster in population compared to other Delta or Alpha variants. He added that the World Health Organization has advised keeping the current methodology for tackling the pandemic as well the medicines being used unchanged.
  3. The Maharashtra government issued a fresh set of guidelines for international passengers arriving at the Mumbai airport as the discovery of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has caused considerable panic across the globe, NDTV reported. Under the rules, only those arriving from six “ultra-risk” countries will have to undergo a mandatory institutional quarantine for seven days. These countries are South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Eswatini. Earlier, the state made Covid testing and quarantine mandatory for all passengers arriving at the Mumbai airport, irrespective of whether they arrived from “at-risk” countries. Following this order, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan had urged the state government to align the order with the Centre’s Standard Operating Procedure.
  4. Civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia told the Lok Sabha that said that India has placed 11 countries in the “at risk category”, The Indian Express reported. They include South Africa, the United Kingdom, Brazil, China, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mauritius, New Zealand, Israel, Hong Kong and Singapore.
  5. Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya met state and Union Territory officials to review stricter Covid testing norms and surveillance measures at airports in India, PTI reported. The new guidelines for international travellers came into effect on Wednesday and passengers from countries deemed as “at-risk” had to brace for massive queues and long waiting time for test results. Passengers also raised concerns about lack of physical distancing and chances of missing their connecting flights due to the chaos.
  6. According to the Centre’s guidelines, passengers coming from “at-risk” countries will be tested for Covid on arrival and they cannot leave the airport till their RT-PCR results are available. If tested negative, travellers have to be in home quarantine for seven days followed by a re-test on the eighth day. At Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, passengers are being charged Rs 500 for the RT-PCR test, The Times of India reported. Those who opt for rapid PCR tests need to pay Rs 3,900 at the airport. The waiting time for the former test is up to six hours, which can get extended depending on the travel rush, and the latter is 1 to 1.5 hours.
  7. Samples of six international passengers who tested positive for the coronavirus after their arrival from “at-risk” nations on Wednesday have been sent for genome sequencing to confirm the strain of the virus.
  8. Tamil Nadu on Thursday made Covid-19 tests mandatory for passengers arriving from “at-risk countries”, including South Africa, Botswana, China, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Bangladesh, Brazil, Singapore, Israel, and the United Kingdom, The News Minute reported. Chennai International Airport’s T4 terminal has been converted into a testing zone for passengers who arrive from these countries. The passengers will have to stay at the airport till they get their results.
  9. Drugmaker Moderna’s President Stephen Hoge said the company could have a booster shot for the Omicron variant tested as soon as March, Reuters reported. “The mutations that had previously led to the biggest drops in efficacy were seen in Delta and Beta,” Hoge said. “And all of those mutations have shown up in Omicron.”
  10. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres criticised countries imposing travel bans due to the spread of the Omicron coronavirus mutation. “With a virus that is truly borderless, travel restrictions that isolate any one country or region are not only deeply unfair and punitive – they are ineffective,” he said at a news conference.