Several Indian states have started taking precautionary measures as neighboring China reels from a surge in Covid-19 cases. On Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Indians to start wearing masks again. India had relaxed its Covid restrictions earlier this year after a drop in infections.

Meanwhile, the Union government has approved Bharat Biotech’s intranasal Covid vaccine to be a part of the the country’s inoculation programme as a booster dose for those above 18 years of age, PTI reported. The needle-free vaccine, designated BBV154, will be available at private centres. It will be introduced on the government’s Co-WIN platform on Friday evening, according to the news agency.

The health ministry has also asked states to conduct mock drills across all health facilities to ensure operational readiness, ANI reported. Last year, India was devastated by the second wave of Covid-19, which had overwhelmed the country’s health systems.

As cases in China were rising, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya told Parliament that India would begin randomly testing 2% of international passengers arriving at the country’s airports. “The global pandemic is not yet over...The virus is changing its face from time to time,” Mandaviya warned.

He also called for a return to Covid-appropriate behaviour and asked states to encourage people to follow physical distancing norms.

Here is how states are responding:

  • The Karnataka government has decided to make masks compulsory in closed spaces and air-conditioned rooms, PTI reported. State Health Minister K Sudhakar said Covid-19 tests will be mandatory for those with Influenza-Like Illness, or ILI, and Severe Acute Respiratory Illness, or SARI.
  • The Taj Mahal in Uttar Pradesh’s Agra, which attracts thousands of tourists every day, will now require visitors to undergo a Covid-test, ANI reported. “The health department has already started the tests to prevent the spread of infection,” said Anil Satsangi, the district health information officer (Agra).
  • The Delhi government has directed health officials to send all positive Covid cases for genome sequencing, increase precaution dose coverage and manpower in hospitals. The national capital struggled with a grave oxygen crisis during the second wave of Covid-19. The shortages of life-saving gas as well as medicines and hospital beds forced families and friends of patients to plead for help on social media. “We have sufficient oxygen availability,” Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Thursday. “This time we have ramped it [facilities] up and we can store up to 928 metric tons of oxygen.”
  • The Kerala government has decided to conduct whole genome sequencing of more samples to identify potential new variants that could emerge from the wave of infections, PTI reported. The state health department said that those admitted to hospitals with respiratory diseases and suffering from severe fever, sore throat and shortness of breath should be tested for coronavirus. Health Minister Veena George has urged residents not to go out in public spaces without a mask, especially during Christmas and New Year holidays.
  • Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin has asked officials to screen all passengers arriving at the international airport in Chennai. While government hospitals have sufficient beds, medicines, testing equipment and oxygen supply for treating the patients, the facilities would be ramped up in case of an emergency, the chief minister said.
  • In West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has asked the state health department to be on alert ahead of the Gangasagar Mela, scheduled to be held from January 8 to January 17. The annual mela on Sagar island is one of the biggest religious events of the country. Lakhs of people come to take a dip at the confluence of river Ganges and Bay of Bengal on Makar Sankranti.
  • The Maharashtra health department has asked all district administrations and municipal corporations to increase testing. Every positive RT-PCR swab sample should be sent for genome sequencing to detect any new variant, the department said.