Amid concerns of a new Covid-19 variant that emerged from South Africa, the Indian government has further revised its Covid-19 guidelines for international passengers. As per the revised order, the new guidelines now require all travellers (irrespective of vaccination status) coming to India from 'at-risk' countries to mandatorily undergo COVID-19 testing at airport on arrival in addition to pre-departure COVID-19 testing undertaken 72 hours before the departure.
For passengers found positive in these tests, they will be isolated and treated as per the clinical management protocol besides their samples also taken for whole genome sequencing, the Union Health Ministry added on Monday. The passengers found negative can depart the airport but have to undergo home isolation for 7 days, followed by repeat testing on 8th day of arrival in India, followed by 7 days of self-monitoring.
Further, in view of reports of increasing number of countries reporting the Omicron variant, the present Guidelines also mandate that 5% of the travellers coming from countries which are not in the ‘at risk category’ will also be tested on random basis at the airports for COVID-19.
Samples of all individuals testing positive for Covid-19, either at airports under home isolation or during random sampling, will also be sent for Whole Genomic Sequencing at identified INSACOG network laboratories to determine the presence of SARS-CoV-2 variants (including Omicron).
The B.1.1.529 variant (Omicron) was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24 November 2021 and the WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) on 26th November 2021 has classified it as Variant of Concern (VoC) in view of large number mutations noted in the variant, some of which may make this mutation more transmissible and have immune escape behaviour. The emerging evidence on the issue is being monitored by Union Ministry of Health.
States have also been advised for rigorous surveillance of international passengers, enhanced testing, monitoring the hotspots of COVID -19, ensuring augmentation of health infrastructure, including undertaking samples for whole genome sequencing, the ministry said in a statement.
"While Union Ministry of Health continues to closely follow the evolving nature of pandemic, strict adherence to COVID Appropriate Behaviour (use of mask/face cover, physical distancing, hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene) and undertaking Covid-19 vaccination remain the mainstay for managing COVID-19 at the community level," it added.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Monday that the Omicron coronavirus variant is likely to spread internationally, posing a "very high" global risk of infection surges that could have "severe consequences" some areas.
The UN agency urged its 194 member states to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups and, in anticipation of increased case numbers, to "ensure mitigation plans are in place" to maintain essential health services.
"Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic," the WHO said.
"The overall global risk related to the new variant ...is assessed as very high."
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