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India on lookout for new COVID variants as cases in other countries climb

India on lookout for new COVID variants as cases in other countries climb
December 22, 2022 Web Desk

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's government has asked the country's states to keep a sharp lookout for any new variants of the coronavirus and urged people to wear masks in crowded areas, citing an increase in COVID-19 cases in China and other parts of the globe.

Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya met senior government officials on Wednesday to discuss the matter, with all those present wearing masks - a practice that has not been mandatory in most parts of the country for several months.

"COVID is not over yet. I have directed all concerned to be alert and strengthen surveillance," he said on Twitter. "We are prepared to manage any situation."

Local media reported on Wednesday that India has detected at least three cases of the highly transmissible BF.7 Omicron sub-variant so far, which in October led to a surge in COVID-19 infections in China.

India's health ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the media reports.

China has registered a surge in infections after ending strict restrictions, while data from the World Health Organization shows infections have risen in countries including Japan, South Korea and the United States in recent days.

The Indian government has asked all states to ensure that samples of positive cases are sent to the country's 54 designated genome sequencing laboratories.

Some opposition leaders and Twitter users in India have called for a suspension of flights to and from China. A government source, who was not authorised to speak to media and declined to be identified, said there was no such plan.

Broadcaster India Today said, citing sources, that authorities will randomly test international arrivals at airports. A spokesperson for the health ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mandaviya also asked participants in a cross-country march organised by the opposition Congress party to ensure they are vaccinated and follow safety measures such as wearing masks.

With more 44 million COVID cases to date, India has reported the most in the world behind the United States. However, its number of confirmed infections has fallen sharply in the past few months, with about 1,200 cases being reported every week at present.