India on alert for new variants as Covid wave sweeps China



New Delhi

India’s health minister has advised the public to take precautions against Covid-19, including getting vaccinated and wearing masks, as the country remains on alert for potential new variants that could emerge from the wave of infections sweeping neighboring China.

Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Thursday told Parliament that India would begin randomly testing 2% of international travelers arriving at the country’s airports, after he asked regional authorities to send positive samples to laboratories monitoring for new Covid strains.

“States have been told to make people aware of (the need to) wear masks, use hand sanitizers, maintain respiratory hygiene and social distancing,” Mandaviya said, as he encouraged Indians to receive vaccines or booster shots.

Speaking Wednesday at a meeting to review the Covid situation in the country amid rising cases in several Asian nations, Mandaviya said: “Covid is not over yet. I have directed all concerned to be on the alert, and strengthen surveillance.”

India, a country of 1.3 billion, relaxed its Covid restrictions earlier this year after a drop in infections, and people have mostly stopped wearing masks outside.

The warnings from the Indian minister come as China braces for infections to spread from its biggest cities to its vast rural areas following its hurried and under-prepared exit from the zero-Covid strategy earlier this month.

On Wednesday, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed concern over rising cases in China, emphasizing he was worried about “increasing reports of severe disease.”

“In order to make a comprehensive risk assessment of the situation on the ground, WHO needs more detailed information on disease severity, hospital admissions and requirements for ICU support,” Tedros told a news conference.

The surge could lead to nearly 1 million deaths in China, according to a study released last week, which added it was also likely to overload many local health systems in the country.

Meanwhile, Chinese experts have warned that the worst may be yet to come. Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said last week that China is being hit by the first of three expected waves of infections this winter.

Last year, India was devastated by a second wave of Covid-19, which killed tens of thousands and overwhelmed the country’s health system.

Since then, India has administered more than 2 billion Covid vaccines and nearly 75% of its population has received at least one dose, according to data from Johns’ Hopkins University.

According to the Health Ministry, India had seen a “steady decline” in cases, with an average of about 150 infections a day nationwide as of December 19.

“We are prepared to manage any situation,” Health Minister Mandaviya said in a Twitter post Wednesday.


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