NEW DELHI — India has begun randomly testing international passengers arriving at its airports for COVID-19, the country’s health minister said Thursday, citing an increase in cases in neighboring China.
Mansukh Mandaviya announced the new rule in Parliament, where he also urged state governments to increase surveillance for any new coronavirus variants and send samples of all positive cases to genome sequencing laboratories.
Mandaviya also asked the public to wear masks and maintain social distancing, even though there are no official mandates for either.
India relaxed its mask-wearing rules earlier this year after coronavirus cases began dropping sharply. It has reported the most COVID-19 cases in the world since the pandemic began, but confirmed infections have fallen sharply in the past few months.
According to health ministry data, India currently has about 3,400 active coronavirus cases.
Cases have surged in neighboring China since it relaxed its harsh restrictions earlier this month following rare public protests.
Mandaviya said the Indian government has no plans yet to halt flights from countries where new cases have been reported.
On Thursday, India’s top doctors’ body, the Indian Medical Association, also appealed to people to wear masks in all public places and get vaccine boosters. It urged people to avoid public gatherings such as weddings, political and social meetings, and international travel.
“As of now, the situation is not alarming and therefore there is no need to panic. Prevention is better than cure,” it said in a statement.
India, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people, has administered more than 2.2 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses, but only 27% of the population has received a third booster dose.