New Delhi: The Union health ministry on Sunday evening revised guidelines for international arrivals in India amid concerns about the new Covid-19 variant of concern, 'Omicron'. Under the revised guidelines, which come into effect from December 1, international passengers entering India have to submit 14-days travel details and upload their negative RT-PCR test report on Air Suvidha portal before the journey.
Various states have already begun to re-tighten curbs and urgently trace people who arrived from abroad, especially "at risk" nations in the last one week.
Earlier on Sunday, the Centre had decided to review the decision on resuming scheduled commercial international passenger flights as well as the testing and surveillance procedure for incoming passengers, especially from countries identified as "at risk" in the wake of the emergence of the new variant of Covid-19.
These decisions were taken at a meeting chaired by Union home secretary Ajay Bhalla and attended, among others, by Niti Aayog member (health) V.K. Paul, Prime Minister’s principal scientific adviser Vijay Raghavan, senior officers from health, civil aviation and other ministries. The meeting was held a day after a high-level review by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the new Covid-19 variant.
It was after more than 20 months that the civil aviation ministry had, on November 26, announced the resumption of scheduled international commercial flights from December 15. A home ministry spokesperson said that the overall global situation in the wake of the ‘Omicron’ virus was comprehensively reviewed in the meeting and that various preventive measures in place are to be further strengthened.
The Centre has also asked all states and Union Territories to focus on intensive containment, active surveillance, enhanced testing, monitoring of hotspots, increased coverage of vaccination and augmentation of health infrastructure.
In view of the possible threat that Omicron poses, Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan listed a series of measures for states and Union Territories to effectively manage the new Covid variant.
As a proactive step, the government has already placed nations, where this Variant of Concern (VoC) has been found, in the category of "at risk" countries for additional follow-up measures of international travellers coming to India from these destinations
The health secretary said it is essential that there is rigorous follow-up of international travellers from all countries, especially those designated as "at risk". Emphasising that ample testing infrastructure needs to be operationalised to tackle any surge due to this mutated virus, he said it has been observed that the overall testing as well as the proportion of RT-PCR tests have declined in some states. "ln the absence of sufficient testing, it is extremely difficult to determine the true level of infection spread. States must strengthen the testing infrastructure and strictly implement the testing guidelines," he said.
Mr Bhushan also stressed on continued monitoring of hotspots, the areas where recent clusters of positive cases have emerged. "ln all such 'hotspots', saturation testing and sending of positive samples quickly for genome sequencing to designated INSACOG labs must be ensured in collaboration with the department of biotechnology (DBT) and the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). States should keep a close check on the emerging trend of cases and the positivity in an area and quickly delineate hotspots for effective containment of Covid-19," he said.
The health secretary said states should aim at achieving a positivity rate below 5 per cent while focusing on increasing the number of tests and share of RT-PCR tests to aid in early identification. He also said that trained human resources, infrastructure, logistics and procurement should be planned and strengthened, considering the geographical spread of the pandemic, and that there shall be no compromise in providing prompt, quality treatment to patients.
Mr Bhushan urged states to optimally utilise the financial support provided by the Central government under ERCP 1 and 2 diligently. INSACOG has been established to monitor the circulating variants in the country, he said, underlining it is important that states must significantly increase sampling from the general population for genome sequencing by sending these samples to INSACOG lab network as per the policy.
The new, potentially more contagious B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on November 24 and has also been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel. It was on Friday designated as a "Variant of Concern" by the WHO, which named it Omicron. A variant of concern is the WHO's top category of worrying Covid-19 variants....