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Omicron scare: Centre calls for rigorous testing of international travellers till Dec 31

States to send positive samples to designated genome sequencing labs

HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/INDIA-CASES Passengers at the Mumbai international airport | Reuters

With new challenges posed by the COVID-19 virus mutation, Union Home Secretary A.K. Bhalla is once again at the apex—steering the government’s efforts to battle the pandemic for another year.

Bhalla on Tuesday said the government has decided to undertake rigorous screening and testing of all international travellers arriving from “at risk” countries till December 31.

As more countries report cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, the government is exercising powers under the Disaster Management Act to enforce “prompt and effective containment measures issued by the union health ministry”, he said in an order. States and union territories will not only undertake rigorous screening and testing of all international passengers till New Year, but samples of travellers who tested positive will be sent to designated INSACOG genome sequencing laboratories (IGSL).

The order has been issued to all state chief secretaries, secretaries in central ministries and the National Disaster Management Authority.

State surveillance officers have been asked to ensure there is close coordination with the tagged IGSLs for expediting the genomic analysis results. The contacts of these travellers will be also tracked and tested as per the health ministry guidelines, said the MHA in its order. States are also being asked to promptly implement public health measures in case of detection of variants of concern.

The National Centre for Disease Control has reported multiple cases of the Omicron variant including three in Botswana, six in South Africa and one in Hong Kong. This variant is reported to have a large number of mutations, warned the health ministry, adding that it has serious health implications for the country in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel.

The Union Home Secretary, who is the chairperson of the National Executive Committee (NEC) under the Disaster Management Act, coordinates measures and issue guidelines to prevent COVID-19 in the country . Recently, the government extended Bhalla’s tenure till August 2022. In the last two years, the NEC has been issuing guidelines about lockdown and unlock phases in the country.

After handling pressures of the first and second COVID-19 wave, Bhalla has an arduous task at hand once again—balancing travel restrictions in the face of an emerging mutant virus strain.

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