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NEW DELHI : The government has expanded the list of countries that have been placed under travel restrictions after reports of new mutations in SARS-CoV-2 and rising number of variants of concern and variants of interest globally.

So far, passengers travelling from the UK, European Union (EU) and West Asia were required to have a negative RT-PCR report before boarding a flight and thereafter a mandatory RT-PCR test upon arrival in India.

“Considering the risk of mutations in SARS-CoV-2, we have added to the list of the UK, EU and Middle East more countries, including South Africa, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand and Zimbabwe. International travellers from all these countries would now need RT-PCR negative reports to get on flights to India and RT-PCR testing upon arrival here," said Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan during a press briefing. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) is closely monitoring a new coronavirus “variant of interest" named Mu (scientific name B.1.621). In its weekly epidemiological update, published on Tuesday, the global public health agency warned it was becoming increasingly prevalent in Colombia and Ecuador, and showed signs of possible resistance to vaccines. 

Mu was first identified in Colombia in January 2021, and since then, there have been sporadic reports of cases and outbreaks in South America and Europe, WHO said. 

Mu is the fifth variant of interest to be monitored by WHO since March. “It has a number of mutations that suggest it could be more resistant to vaccines. Further research would be needed to confirm this," said WHO. 

Preliminary data show a reduced effectiveness of vaccines “similar to that seen for the Beta variant". WHO said it would be monitoring “the epidemiology of the Mu variant in South America, particularly with the co-circulation of the Delta variant...for changes"

However, variant C.1.2 is not yet a variant to follow, nor a variant of concern, according to the classification of WHO. “It does not appear that its circulation is increasing," said Dr. Margaret Harris, a spokesperson for WHO.  The Union health ministry said around 300 cases of Delta plus variant of SARS-CoV-2 have been detected in India so far. 

Over 47,092 cases were reported in the last 24 hours, with 69% of the new cases in the last week recorded in Kerala, said Bhushan. 

The active caseload is 389,583, or 1.19% of total positive cases. The daily positivity rate stands at 2.80%.

Bhushan said 39 districts in the country reported over 10% weekly covid positivity rate in the week ending 31 August, while in 38 districts, it was between 5% and 10%.

“Over 16% of India’s adult population has received both the doses of a covid-19 vaccine, while 54% have been administered at least the first dose. In Sikkim, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Himachal Pradesh the entire adult population has got at least one dose of the vaccine," Bhushan  said.

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