New Covid variant: Karnataka tightens screening of international flyers

In view of the discovery of the new variant of Covid-19, the Karnataka government has mandated rigorous screening and testing of international arrivals from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong.
Karnataka has issued a circular for screening and testing of international travellers and their contacts in view of the discovery of new variant of Covid. (Archives)
Karnataka has issued a circular for screening and testing of international travellers and their contacts in view of the discovery of new variant of Covid. (Archives)
Updated on Nov 27, 2021 05:26 AM IST
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Bengaluru: In view of the discovery of the new variant of Covid-19, the Karnataka government has mandated rigorous screening and testing of international arrivals from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong, officials said.

The National Centre for Disease Control has reported that multiple cases of Covid-19 variant 8.1.1529 have been reported in these countries.

“This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and thus, has serious public health implications for the country, in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel,” said Union secretary for health and family welfare Rajesh Bhushan in a letter written to the states on Thursday.

Taking note of the development, in a circular issued in Bengaluru on Friday, principal secretary, health and family welfare, Anil Kumar has asked all officials concerned to conduct meticulous implementation and rigorous monitoring of the three-pronged surveillance strategy.

The implementation plan consists of screening and testing of international travellers and their contacts, routine sentinel surveillance and surge surveillance, and timely sending of RT-PCR positive samples to designated INSACOG Genome Sequencing Laboratories (lGSLs).

“It is imperative that all international travellers coming from and transiting through Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong, and also including all other at-risk countries identified by the Centre, are subjected to rigorous screening and testing as per guidelines,” the circular stated.

“The contacts of these international travellers should also be closely tracked and tested as per the guidelines. It should also be ensured that the samples of such international travellers testing positive for Covid-I9 should be sent to designated IGSLs for genome sequencing, and these samples should be sequenced on priority at IGSLs,” it added.

Karnataka achieving 90% coverage of the first dose of the vaccine in the state was viewed as a sign of relief by officials of the health department and health experts. Even though the second dose coverage is only 57% , the first dose coverage was perceived as a reasonable shield against a potential third wave. But with the new variant of the virus recovered in South Africa, experts in Karnataka say it is time to rethink the strategy.

Dr Vishal Rao, member of the state Genomic Surveillance Committee and chief of Head and Neck Surgical Oncology and Robotic Surgery at HCG Cancer Centre, said that the government should consider providing a booster shot to people. “We will know more about the virus in the coming days, but what we can do now is the focus on vaccination. We should ramp up the existing vaccination process, while starting a process of giving a booster shot,” he said.

Meanwhile, Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai on Thursday instructed the deputy commissioners of all districts to intensify the Covid-19 vaccination drive to improve state’s coverage of second dose. The chief minister said this while holding a video conference with deputy commissioners of the districts to review the progress of Covid vaccination drive.

“The state has achieved 90 per cent coverage of the first dose and the extent of coverage of the second dose stands at 57 per cent. The second dose coverage should touch 70 per cent by the end of December,” Bommai said.

On Thursday, two hostels in the SDM College of Medical Sciences and Hospital in Dharwad, Karnataka, were closed after 66 students had initially tested positive for the disease. With 116 more people, mostly students, testing positive for Covid-19, total caseload reached 182 cases on Friday, according to official data.

“ 300 students have been tested so far and the remaining 100 are also undergoing tests. By evening their results are also likely. Also, there are about 3,000 staff members, who will be tested. Those testing positive will be quarantined and given treatment,” said deputy commissioner of Dharwad, Nitish Patil.

“Those who have tested positive will not be allowed to come out and those who are awaiting test results are also quarantined, so precautionary measures have been taken to avoid any further spread,” Patil had also said.

All students and staff, who fall under the health workers category, of the college have been fully vaccinated against the disease, however, their records are being verified, officials said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Arun Dev is an Assistant Editor with the Karnataka bureau of Hindustan Times. A journalist for over 10 years, he has written extensively on crime and politics.

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