Omicron: Govt to Review SoP on Testing of Incoming Passengers from ‘At Risk’ Countries

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A day after PM Modi reviewed the situation related to Covid-19 and ‘Omicron’, described by WHO as a “variant of concern”, Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla on Sunday chaired an urgent meeting on the same.

The government will review Standard Operating Procedure (SOPs) on testing and surveillance of incoming international passengers, especially for those countries identified ‘at risk’ category, an official statement said.

Genomic surveillance for variants will be further strengthened and intensified. Airport Health Officials (APHOs) and Port Health Officials (PHOs) will be sensitized for strict supervision of testing protocol at airports/ ports. Decision on effective date of resumption of scheduled commercial international passengers service, will be required to be reviewed, as per evolving global scenario, it said.

The meeting was held with various experts, Dr V K Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog, Dr Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to Prime Minister and senior officers from Health, Civil Aviation and other ministries.

Listing a series of measures which states and UTs should undertake, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan has stressed on rigorous surveillance of international passengers, ensuring prompt dispatch of samples for genome sequencing and strict enforcement of Covid-appropriate behaviour to effectively manage this Variant of Concern (VoC).

As a proactive step, the government has already placed nations, where this VoC has been found, in the category of ‘at risk’ countries for additional follow-up measures of international travellers coming into lndia from these destinations, he said in a letter dated November 27. “ln view of the possible threat that this VoC can pose to the nation, it is imperative that the intensive containment, active surveillance, increased coverage of vaccination and Covid- appropriate behaviour must be enforced in the field in a very proactive manner to effectively manage this VoC,” Bhushan said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday stressed the need to be proactive and directed officials to review plans for easing of international travel restrictions in light of the “emerging new evidence”.

Modi, who chaired a comprehensive meeting to review the situation related to COVID-19 and vaccination in the country, was briefed by top health officials about ‘Omicron’ with its characteristics and the impact seen in various countries.

The new, potentially more contagious B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) from South Africa on November 24 and has also been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel. It was on Friday designated as a “Variant of Concern” by the WHO, which named it Omicron. A variant of concern is the WHO’s top category of worrying COVID-19 variants.

(With PTI inputs)

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