Omicron scare: Centre advises states to ramp up testing for early detection of cases

New Delhi: Amid mounting concerns over the potentially more contagious coronavirus variant Omicron spreading to many countries, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan held a review meeting with states and UTs on Tuesday and advised them to ramp up testing for early identification and management of cases.

While underlining that the new variant doesn’t escape RT-PCR and RAT tests, Bhushan asked states and UTs to ensure adequate infrastructure and supervised home isolation, a Union Health Ministry official said.

According to government officials, no case of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus has been detected in India yet.

In view of the possible threat that the new Variant of Concern (VoC ) can pose to the nation, the ministry has asked all states and UTs to focus on intensive containment, active surveillance, enhanced testing, monitoring of hotspots, increased coverage of vaccination and ensure augmentation of health infrastructure.

In a letter to states and UTs on November 28, Bhushan also stressed rigorous surveillance of international passengers, ensuring prompt dispatch of samples for genome sequencing and strict enforcement of Covid Appropriate Behaviour to effectively manage this VoC.

The B.1.1.529 Covid variant or Omicron, first detected in South Africa last week, was designated by the World Health Organisation as a ‘variant of concern’, the health body’s top category for worrying coronavirus variants.

According to an advisory issued by the Centre, the self-declaration board form on Air Suvidha Portal, which has the travel history of the last 14 days of all international travellers arriving in India, is filled completely before boarding.

The new guidelines also said that airlines shall put in place a proper randomization process for testing about 5 per cent of the passengers in flights on arrival. “Additional RT-PCR facilities, as required, may also be set up at all airports,” it added.

All this comes even as experts stressed vaccines remain a critical tool. The WHO said it is “not yet clear” if the newly-detected variant is more transmissible or causes more severe disease, but authorities across states in India ramped up efforts to deal with the evolving situation.

Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said the situation is being closely monitored in consultation with other ministries regarding “any further decision” on resuming scheduled international passenger services.

The World Health Organization had on Monday warned that the global risk from the omicron variant is ‘very high’ based on early evidence, saying the mutated coronavirus could lead to surges with ‘severe consequences.’

The UN health agency, in a technical paper issued to member states, said “considerable uncertainties’’ remain about the variant that was first detected days ago in southern Africa. But it said it is possible the variant has mutations that could enable it to escape an immune-system response and boost its ability to spread from one person to another.