Omicron variant: Centre imposes new rules for arrivals from 'at risk' countries

Omicron variant: Centre imposes new rules for arrivals from at risk countries

Kolkata: The Centre on Sunday said that those arriving from abroad will now have to upload their 14-day travel history and valid negative RT-PCR test reports on the Air Suvidha portal before embarking on their journey to India amid threats of Covid's Omicron variant looming large.

The RT-PCR test report should not be more than 72 hours old. The Centre in its order also maintained that passengers travelling from countries that are categorised as 'at-risk' will have to undergo testing on arrival. If the passengers test positive, their samples will be sent to INSACOG for genomic sequencing and they will be sent to institutional quarantine. If they test negative, they will be asked to remain in home quarantine for seven days following which they will take a test on the 8th day and continue monitoring their health for the next seven days.

The Centre also added that 5 percent of the passengers not travelling from the at-risk nations will also be subjected to random testing. The tests for passengers from 'at-risk' nations will be self-paid while the cost of the random tests will be borne by the Civil Aviation ministry.

The countries assigned 'at risk' by the government are South Africa, China, the United Kingdom, European countries, Bangladesh, Brazil, Botswana, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Hong Kong, Singapore and Israel.

The Centre earlier held meetings with top officials and the Health ministry over the Omicron variant. The decision to resume regular international flight services from December 15 will be reviewed in the changed situation, it said.

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan has written to Chief Secretaries of all the states, including Bengal, urging them to conduct rigorous surveillance for international passengers especially from those countries where new Covid strain Omicron has been found. This new variant has been termed as 'Variant of Concern' by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and these countries have been designated as 'At Risk'.

Genome sequencing has been made mandatory for those coming from these countries and testing positive for Covid. Mutation of SARS-CoV-2 variant (B.1.1.529; Omicron) was reported from South Africa. The Centre has already placed the countries where VoC has been reported, in the category of 'At Risk'.

Bengal and all the other states have been asked to take additional measures for travellers coming from countries where VoC has been found.

"It is essential that the disease surveillance network in the country is geared up for rigorous follow up of all international travellers from all countries, especially those designated as 'At Risk'. There is already a reporting mechanism for obtaining past travel details of passengers coming through international flights and this should be reviewed at your level and the protocol provided by this ministry should be strictly ensured including testing on disembarkation of international travellers coming from 'At Risk' countries and sending all positive samples for genome sequencing to INSACOG Labs in a prompt manner," reads the letter sent on November 27.

The Union Health Secretary in his letter also urged all the Chief Secretaries of States to enhance testing to tackle any surge due to this mutated virus. It was observed that overall testing, as well as the proportion of RT-PCR tests, have declined in some states.

"States should keep a close check on the emerging trend of cases and the positivity in the area and quickly delineate hotspots for effective containment of COVID-19. States should aim at achieving the positivity rate below 5 percent while focusing on increasing the number of tests," says the letter.

Incidentally, Bengal consistently registered a positivity rate below 2 per cent for a couple of days while the figure on Sunday registered at 2.01 percent. The number of positivity rates in Bengal is much lower compared to that mentioned in the Centre's letter. Regular sample tests in Bengal vary between 35,000-45,000 on an average basis. The state Health department has already taken adequate measures and strengthened infrastructure, especially the critical care units at the hospitals, to combat if there is a third wave of Covid.

India, which battled the deadly second wave blamed on the Delta variant in April-May, faces the Omicron challenge after easing curbs to a large extent following an improvement in the situation.

The country saw a single-day rise of 8,774 new Coronavirus infections and the active cases declined to 1,05,691, the lowest in 543 days, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Sunday.

After a long hiatus of more than 20 months, the government had on November 26 announced the resumption of scheduled international commercial flights from December 15.

But on Sunday, the government said it will review the decision on the effective date of resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services as per evolving global scenario.

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