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Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday warned of the new Covid19 variant Omicron as he spoke before the start of the Winter Session of Parliament.

PM Modi held a Covid review meeting on the weekend amid concerns about the new strain detected in South Africa.

In his customary remarks ahead of the Winter Session of Parliament, PM Modi to,d reporters: “Reports of a new variant are making us even more alert.”

“I appeal to parliament and all of you to be cautious as every citizen’s health is a priority in this hour of crisis,” the PM said.

PM Modi said over 100 crore doses of Covid19 vaccine have been administered and the country is now moving towards the 150 crore-mark.

The WHO on Friday declared Omicron a ‘Variant of Concern’ placing the new strain into the most troubling category of Covid19 variants, along with Delta and its weaker rivals Alpha, Beta and Gamma.

The Indian government is planning tightened travel rules and checks for visitors as cases are emerging in Botswana, Italy, Hong Kong, Australia, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany, Canada, Israel and Czech Republic.

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The cases in Hong Kong are particularly troubling because the two patients (arrivals from southern Africa) were quarantined in separate rooms, suggesting the B.1.1.529 variant is airborne.

A number of countries have already imposed travel bans and restrictions on flights to and from South Africa and the neighbouring countries.

PM Modi during a meeting with officials and experts on Saturday reportedly called for a review of plans to ease travel restrictions.

Omicron has been red-flagged for ‘an alarmingly high number of mutations’ that might make it more resistant to vaccines, increase transmissibility and lead to more severe symptoms.

The WHO on its website said the B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to it from South Africa on November 24, 2021.

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The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterized by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the latest of which was predominantly the Delta variant.

“In recent weeks, infections have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of B.1.1.529 variant. The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on November 9, 2021,” WHO said.

“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” it said.

Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs.

The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.

Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant.

“There are a number of studies underway and the TAG-VE will continue to evaluate this variant. WHO will communicate new findings with Member States and to the public as needed,” it further said.

Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology, the TAG-VE has advised WHO that this variant should be designated as a VOC, and the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a VOC, named Omicron.

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