Airports to randomly test 2%international flyers for Covid-19

By, New Delhi
Dec 23, 2022 02:21 AM IST

India has begun randomly testing 2% of international travellers coming to the country for Covid-19 and could consider making it mandatory for all if required, Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya said on Thursday.

India has begun randomly testing 2% of international travellers coming to the country for Covid-19 and could consider making it mandatory for all if required, Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya told Parliament on Thursday, as several countries, particularly China, reported a spike in cases.

Amid a surge in Covid cases in several countries,India has so far ruled out any flights restrictions. (PTI)
Amid a surge in Covid cases in several countries,India has so far ruled out any flights restrictions. (PTI)

The ministers remarks came amid a series of high-level meetings in connection with the spike in cases seen in other parts of the world, although experts and officials have said India has little to worry at this point since it has high baseline immunity.

Mandaviya ruled out any flights restrictions. “There are no direct flights from China to India and we are taking all possible precautions that we have learnt in the past two years to manage the spread of infection in the country. We are already randomly testing 2% samples for Covid from international passengers on arrival, and if required, in the future, we can increase it further and can also make it mandatory for all arriving passengers to get tested,” he said in Rajya Sabha.

The testing is aimed at keeping a watch on the variants that are being imported into the country. “We have to keep in mind both the things, that unknown viruses shouldn’t enter our country and also there is no hindrance in travel,” he added.

India dropped mandatory testing for international arrivals on February 14, after a sustained drop in cases at the time, and on, November 21, it did away with the mandatory Covid-19 or vaccine status declaration via the Air Suvidha portal, which people heading to India would need to visit prior to their departure.

Later on Thursday, officials disclosed a letter sent by Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan to civil aviation secretary Rajiv Bansal in which he said decisions were taken for airports to carry out random Covid tests on 2% of international arrivals, for airlines to identify which passengers to test, and for local and national disease surveillance officials to be informed of the samples taken.

Passengers who give their samples can leave the airport, and the results will relayed to the integrated disease surveillance programme (IDSP) offices of the Centre and the states, the letter said, adding that positive samples should be further sent to the genome sequencing network of labs Insacog for further analysis.

In the last week, India reported a little over 150 cases a day on average, among the lowest numbers seen since the start of the pandemic.

Ahead of the festive season, the health minister said, states need to focus on ensuring effective awareness within communities on adherence to Covid-appropriate behaviour, which includes use of masks and maintaining social distance. India will continue to focus on strategic principles of ‘Test-Track-Treat-Vaccination and adherence to Covid appropriate behavior’ to manage the virus, he said.

On the country’s preparedness to tackle any fresh surge in cases, Mandaviya said the health ministry conducted an extensive review and found adequate stock of medicines and production capacity.

“We not only are prepared to manage our requirements but are also capable of helping to deal with the global medicine crisis,” he said.

“When the crisis happened last time, I got instructions from the Prime Minister that we also need to help other countries, and we supplied medicines to 150 countries in need and not at exorbitant prices. Also, none of the countries complained of spurious drugs; it was all of quality,” he added.

The minister assured the House that India is adequately placed as far as supply of oxygen and medicines are concerned.

“We have adequate oxygen supplies in the country with all big hospitals now having a PSA (pressure swing absorption) oxygen plant. I personally review the working of those plants every 15 days because I know it takes a lot to maintain it. In fact, I was told that it was expensive to maintain a PSA plant and the demand has been low for some time, for which I suggested that its functioning should be outsourced to some third party under public-private-partnership model so that it is put to constructive use,” he said.

India has shown a continuous decreasing trajectory in cases in the last one year, the health minister said.

“Presently, 153 new cases on an average are being reported daily across the country, but globally, approximately 5.87 lakh (587,000) new cases are still being reported on an average on a daily basis,” he said.

“With collective efforts of the Union government and all states, we have administered a record number of 220.02 crore (2200.2 million) doses of Covid-19 vaccines across the country. This has covered 90% of the eligible population with two doses, including administration of 22.35 crore (223.5 million) precaution doses,” he added.

Mandaviya said the health ministry is also monitoring the country’s and global situation,

“I would like to brief the House that the ministry of health is monitoring the situation on a regular basis and has proposed the following specific interventions to manage the ongoing challenge. States are advised to focus on heightened surveillance within the community and to undertake requisite control and containment measures,” he said.

“States have also been advised to increase the whole genome sequencing of all positive cases for timely detection of newer variants, if any, circulating in the country and facilitate undertaking required public health measures,” he added.

States should ensure that the coverage of precaution doses for Covid-19 vaccination should increase and required awareness for the same is undertaken within the community, he said.

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    Rhythma Kaul works as an assistant editor at Hindustan Times. She covers health and related topics, including ministry of health and family welfare, government of India.

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