Amid global COVID surge, govt advises all: Mask up, get jabs

Random sample testing for coronavirus will be conducted at airports for international passengers arriving from China and other countries

By :  sanjay kaw
Update: 2022-12-21 11:39 GMT
Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya directed officials to be alert and strengthen surveillance. (Photo: Twitter)

New Delhi: The shadow of Covid-19 once again looms large on India. Three cases of Omicron sub-variant BF.7, apparently the strain driving China’s current surge of coronavirus cases, have been detected in the country so far. Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Wednesday reviewed the Covid-19 situation in view of a sudden spurt in cases in some parts of the world and directed officials to remain alert and strengthen surveillance.

Noting that only 27 to 28 per cent of India’s eligible population have taken the Covid-19 precaution dose, Niti Aayog member (health) V.K. Paul, after the meeting, said people should take the jab and also wear masks in crowded places.  He, however, urged people not to panic and clarified that there was no change in the guidelines for international air travel so far. “People should wear masks in crowded areas. Those who have comorbidities or are elderly should especially adhere to this,” he added.

The government has now decided to hold weekly meetings to monitor the country’s Covid-19 situation. The health minister’s review meeting was also attended by the secretaries of health, department of pharmaceuticals, department of biotechnology, Ayush, Indian Council of Medical Research director-general Rajiv Bahl and National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation chairman N.K. Arora.

Dr Mandaviya tweeted: “In view of the rising cases of Covid-19 in some countries, reviewed the situation with experts and officials today. Covid is not over yet. I have directed all concerned to be alert and strengthen surveillance. We are prepared to manage any situation.”

In June this year, the health ministry  issued “Operational Guidelines for Revised Surveillance Strategy in context of Covid-19”, which called for early detection, isolation, testing and timely management of suspected and confirmed cases to detect and contain outbreaks of new SARS-CoV-2 variants. The ministry has again directed officials to ensure effective implementation of these guidelines.

Random sample testing for coronavirus will be conducted at airports for international passengers arriving from China and other countries in view of the recent surge in cases in some parts of the world, official sources said Wednesday.

In Delhi, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal  directed the health department to ensure genome sequencing of samples and take other steps needed to meet any eventuality. The Uttar Pradesh government  also directed officials to ensure Covid protocols are followed at night shelters for the homeless.

In Karnataka, the state will start screening international passengers at Bengaluru airport. Karnataka health minister K. Sudhakar, however, did not specify from which date the screening process will begin at the Kempegowda International Airport. “We will have to take certain precautionary measures in the wake of global situation. KIA has a high inflow of international passengers. We will start screening passengers there,” he said.

Citing concerns raised by three BJP MPs over the spread of the coronavirus, Dr Mandaviya urged Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to consider suspending the “Bharat Jodo Yatra” if adherence to Covid-19 protocols cannot be adhered to. In a letter to Mr Gandhi and Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot, the Union minister said three MPs from Rajasthan – P.P.

Chaudhary, Nihal Chand and Devji Patel -- have flagged concerns and requested the Congress leader that Covid-19 protocols, including use of masks and sanitisers, be strictly followed during the march and only those who are vaccinated be allowed to participate. The yatra entered Haryana on Wednesday from Rajasthan.

 Accusing the government of selectively picking on the “Bharat Jodo Yatra” because of its success, the Congress said the BJP was taking out yatras in Karnataka and Rajasthan and asked if Dr Mandaviya sent letters to their organisers too. Congress leader Pawan Khera, who pointed to the lack of restrictions in public transport, asked the government to announce Covid-19 protocols and said the party would follow them. “We are wondering why a similar letter was not sent to the president of BJP in Rajasthan Satish Punia, who is carrying out a Janakrosh Yatra there. We understand there is not much of a response to that Janakrosh Yatra. There are no people there,” he told reporters.

In India, the first case of BF.7  in India was detected in October by the Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre. So far, two cases have been reported from Gujarat while one case has been logged from Odisha.

At the review meeting, experts said although there was no overall increase in the Covid-19 caseload as of now, there is a need for continued surveillance to keep a track of existing and emerging variants. At present, India is recording about 1,200 new infections a week. Globally, some 3.5 million cases are being recorded every week.

Chinese cities are currently hit by the highly transmissible Omicron strain, mostly BF.7, which is the main variant spreading in Beijing and is contributing to a wider surge of Covid-19 infections in that country.

Experts say that the BF.7’s high transmissibility in China might be attributed to a low level of immunity in the Chinese population from the previous infection and possibly vaccination too. BF.7 is a sub-lineage of the Omicron variant BA.5 and has the strongest infection ability since it is highly transmissible, has a shorter incubation period, and has a higher capacity to cause reinfection or infect even those vaccinated. It has already been detected in several other countries, including the United States, Britain and European nations such as Belgium, Germany, France and Denmark.

In view of the rise in cases in Japan, the US, Republic of Korea, Brazil and China, the health ministry on Tuesday had urged all states and Union territories to ramp up the whole genome sequencing of Covid-19 positive samples to keep track of emerging variants. The government has said samples of all Covid positive cases should be sent daily to INSACOG genome sequencing labs mapped with all states and UTs. INSACOG is a forum under the health ministry to study and monitor various strains of Covid-19 in India.

Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan had told the states and UTs that such an exercise would  enable timely detection of newer variants, if any, circulating in the country and will facilitate undertaking of requisite public health measures.

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