New Delhi: Amid growing concerns over a potentially more contagious Covid-19 variant Omicron spreading to 15-plus countries, the home ministry on Tuesday extended the nationwide containment measures till December 31 and asked all states and Union territories to be more vigilant.
Underlining that the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 does not escape RT-PCR and RAT tests, the health ministry advised the states and UTs to ramp up testing for early identification of any cases, undertake effective surveillance of international passengers and strictly monitor hotspots.
New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport has already put in place arrangements to accommodate up to 1,500 international passengers at a time, including those coming from “at risk” countries, till the results of their RT-PCR tests taken after arrival are available.
While over 123 crore vaccine doses have already been administered to the country’s adult population, the Centre has also extended till December 31 the door-to-door Covid-19 vaccination campaign “Har Ghar Dastak”, with a focus on 100 per cent first dose coverage and completing the backlog of second dose vaccinations.
In the last 24 hours, India logged 6,990 new infections, the lowest in 551 days, taking the country’s total tally of Covid-19 cases to 3,45,87,822. The number of active cases have declined to 1,00,543, the lowest in 546 days. With 190 fresh fatalities, the death toll has risen to 4,68,980.
The World Health Organisation has warned that the global risk from the new variant is “very high” based on early evidence. The UN health body said the mutated coronavirus could lead to surges with “severe consequences”. The WHO has, however, urged countries to remain calm and take “rational” measures in response to the fast-spreading Omicron variant, which has sparked global panic. “We call on all member states to take rational, proportional risk-reduction measures,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a briefing in Geneva. “We still have more questions than answers about the effect of Omicron on transmission, the severity of disease and effectiveness of tests, therapeutics and vaccines,” he added.
As the world is battling Omicron, Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya informed Parliament on Tuesday that India has so far not reported any case of the new Covid-19 variant. During Question Hour in the Rajya Sabha, he said: “The Omicron variant has been found in 14 countries now. It is being studied here although it has not been reported in India so far.”
Stressing that there was a need to take all precautions, the minister said: “We have learnt a lot during the pandemic. We have resources and labs to check.” He said the government has taken measures to ensure that the new variant does not reach the country.
Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan held a review meeting with the states and UTs and advised them to ramp up testing for the early identification and management of cases. Reiterating that the revised guidelines and international travel advisories of the health ministry have been shared with the states and UTs, he advised them not to let their guard down and keep strict vigil on the international passengers coming to the country through various airports, ports and land border crossings.
While extending the nationwide Covid-19 containment measures till December 31, Union home secretary Ajay Bhallahas asked the states and UTs to strictly adhere to the November 25 advisory recommending the rigorous screening and testing of all international arrivals.
Mr Bhalla said all contacts of the international travellers must be closely tracked and tested as per the health ministry guidelines, and the samples of travellers turning positive sent to the designated Genome Sequencing Laboratories promptly, as per the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) Guidance Document.
The home secretary said state surveillance officers must also establish close coordination with their designated or tagged genome sequencing laboratories for expediting results of genomic analysis, and the states and UTs should immediately undertake public health measures in case of the presence of variants of concern.