NEW DELHI: With the highly infectious Omicron variant of the coronavirus being detected in at least two more countries on Sunday, the Centre decided to review its decision on resuming commercial foreign flights. Before Omicron surfaced, it had reportedly planned to resume full international travel from December 15.
And now, new guidelines from the health ministry state that passengers travelling from or transiting through “at risk” countries will have to take a RT-PCR test on arrival in India and will be required to wait for the results before leaving the airport or taking a connecting flight. Five per cent of travellers from other countries in each flight will be randomly tested at the airport.
The “at-risk” countries are European nations, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel. On Sunday, in an urgent meeting chaired by Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, the government issued a slew of directions to states for ramping up testing-surveillance measures and health facilities, asking them to focus on intensive containment, monitoring of hot spots and increasing vaccination coverage. The meeting follows a high-level review by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday.
For their part, states began to re-tighten Covid restrictions and trace people who arrived from abroad, especially from ‘at risk’ nations, in the last one month. Though no Omicron cases have been recorded in India yet, confirmed or suspected cases have emerged in Europe, Israel and Hong Kong — just days after it was first detected in South Africa. The Netherlands confirmed 13 cases, Australia two and the UK one on Sunday. In drastic moves, Israel barred entry to foreigners and Morocco suspended all incoming air travel.
Catching the bug in time
South Africa didn’t wait for gene sequencing to spot the variant, as it used a RT-PCR test with a gene kit that can show a result of a undetectable S-gene target — a marker for Omicron. India doesn’t have the kit yet, but it can begin manufacturing quickly, says scientist Anurag Agrawal