India has started randomly testing international passengers arriving at its airports for COVID-19, the country’s federal health minister said, citing an increase in cases in neighboring China.
Mansukh Mandaviya announced the new rule in parliament on Thursday and also called on state governments to step up monitoring of new coronavirus variants and send samples of all positive cases to genome sequencing laboratories.
According to local media reports, at least four cases of BF.7 — the omicron sub-variant that is driving the current increase in China — have so far been identified in India.
However, Dr. Randeep Guleria, pulmonologist and former head of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in the capital New Delhi, told CNN Breaking News that the situation in India is different from that in China.
“Both due to the repeal of the zero Covid policy and due to a large number of people there (in China) who have never been exposed to the virus, are now exposed to the BF.7 variant, which is spreading very quickly,” he said.
“And vaccine uptake is also not as good as in India. So these factors are likely contributing to the spread there,” he added.
According to Guleria, the BF.7 strain of the coronavirus had been in India for at least two to three months.
“We haven’t seen a big increase yet and cases have fallen. So it’s likely that we won’t have the kind of effect that China has,” he said, adding that India must remain vigilant as the virus can evolve and mimic over the next few months.
Health Minister Mandaviya called on the public to wear masks and maintain social distancing, although there are no official mandates for either.
India relaxed its mask-wearing rules earlier this year following a sharp drop in coronavirus cases. The most COVID-19 cases in the world have been reported since the start of the pandemic, but confirmed infections have fallen sharply in recent months.
According to the Ministry of Health, there are currently around 3,400 active coronavirus cases in India.
Cases have increased in neighboring China since the country relaxed its strict restrictions earlier this month following rare public protests.
Mandaviya said the Indian government has not yet planned to suspend flights from countries where new cases have been reported.
The increase in cases in China has also prompted Indian health experts to give the public advice on wearing face masks and giving booster doses.
On Thursday, India’s top medical body, the Indian Medical Association, appealed for people to wear masks and get vaccines in all public places. She urged people to avoid public gatherings such as weddings, political and social meetings, and international travel.
“At present, the situation is not alarming and there is therefore no reason to panic. Prevention is better than cure,” it says in a statement.
India, a country of almost 1.4 billion people, has given more than 2.2 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses, but only 27 percent of the population has received a third booster dose.