States issue guidelines, review travel curbs over Omicron threat

ByHT Correspondents
Nov 28, 2021 11:51 PM IST

No cases of Omicron, dubbed a variant of concern by the World Health Organization last week, have been reported from India so far. The variant is spreading rapidly across the world, and there have been several instances reported from Africa, Europe and parts of Asia.

Many state governments have issued fresh advisories to health officials and may reimpose restrictions on travel even as the central government on Sunday asked provincial authorities to be more vigilant against the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

A health worker collects swab samples of passengers at Mumbai railway station. (Bhushan Koyande/HT)
A health worker collects swab samples of passengers at Mumbai railway station. (Bhushan Koyande/HT)

No cases of Omicron, dubbed a variant of concern by the World Health Organization last week, have been reported from India so far. The variant is spreading rapidly across the world, and there have been several instances reported from Africa, Europe and parts of Asia.

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The Uttar Pradesh health department on Sunday issued an advisory to all chief medical officers in the state, asking them to focus upon travellers coming from or transiting through countries where cases of the new variant have been reported, as well as their contacts.

Travellers coming from ‘at risk’ nations should be rigorously screened and monitored according to guidelines of the Union health ministry, the advisory said. All incoming passengers from ‘at risk’ countries needed to tested. Those testing positive will have to stay in home isolation for 10 days and inform their health status to officials at the integrated Covid command centre, the advisory said.

In Madhya Pradesh, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan held a high-level meeting on Sunday and said the state will prepare a list of people who have come to Madhya Pradesh from foreign countries in the past one month. “These people will be tested and also the suspects will be kept under observation. Genome sequencing h will also be done,” he said.

Tamil Nadu’s health department has appointed nodal officers in each of the four international airports in the state (Chennai, Coimbatore, Madurai and Trichy) to coordinate with airport staff on screening and testing passengers on arrival. RT-PCR tests are being done for all international arrivals at Chennai airport. “We are monitoring those arriving from South Africa and transiting from there,” the state’s health minister M Subramanian told reporters on Saturday after inspecting Chennai airport.

“With respect to Chennai airport, we are intensively monitoring passengers from South Africa, China, Hong Kong and Israel, and ensuring that they 100% home quarantined and (will) retest them after 8 days,” he said, adding that authorities will keep a record of passengers who have arrived after double vaccination. Since October 21, as many as 55,090 RT-PCR tests were conducted among passengers at Chennai airport, of which three tested positive for Covid-19. Most samples were of the Delta variant that swept through India in a devastating wave earlier this year.

The Maharashtra government in a notification on Saturday said domestic air travellers will have to be either fully vaccinated or carry an RT-PCR test report valid for 72 hours. Simultaneously, all international passengers arriving at the city’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International airport from “countries of concern” will be made to undergo mandatory RT-PCR testing for Covid-19, and if found positive, will be sent to an institutional quarantine centre while their samples would be sent to the city’s genome sequencing lab, according to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).

All passengers would have to provide their travel history of past 15 days on arrival, officials said. The BMC is also setting up a call centre for testing and institutional quarantine for international passengers.

Karnataka has requested the central government to ban flights from South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana, where the new strain has been found. It has made it mandatory that international travellers will be allowed to leave the airport only after testing negative for Covid-19. If they test positive, they will be quarantined.

State authorities has increased vigil in the Kerala and Maharashtra borders, and only those who have negative test certificates with two doses of vaccines will be allowed to cross over into Karnataka, officials said.

The Karnataka government has also issued an advisory asking schools and other educational institutions to suspend social and cultural events for two months. The government has said that people who work in malls, cinemas and other public spaces should not be allowed to report to their respective jobs until they get both shots of a Covid-19 vaccine.

In Kerala, the government has stepped up surveillance in all four international airports and urged overseas visitors to undergo quarantine for seven days.

“The state has taken all precautions as per the guidelines of the union health ministry. We will keep a strict tab on people who are on quarantine after coming from abroad,” said state health minister Veena George. Those coming from affected countries, including people with negative RT-PCR reports, will have to take a test again as they arrive in the state, she said.

No advisories were issued in the states of Bihar, Punjab and West Bengal, even though officials there said they were monitoring the situation.

“So far there is no case of omicron in Punjab. We are on an alert in case of any such case is found in the state. Testing is being increased at airports,” said Dr. Rajesh Bhaskar, Punjab’s nodal officer on the pandemic. “Though there is no such case in the state as of now, we are alert and will put in place whatever arrangements require to be done to contain it,” Bihar health minister Mangal Pandey told reporters in Madhubani on Saturday.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who is in charge of the state’s health department, has asked all officials to be on the alert. “The health secretary has convened an emergency meeting with chief medical officers from all state-run hospitals on Monday and a special cell is being opened at the infectious diseases hospital at Beliaghata in Kolkata,” the official said, requesting anonymity.

Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar said on Sunday that “hope for the best and be prepared for the worst” and added that so far no such variant has surfaced in Haryana.

The Odisha government has announced that people arriving in the state from foreign countries will have to undergo a mandatory quarantine for 10 days. “The foreign returnees will have to stay under quarantine for a period of 10 days to prevent further spread of Covid-19 infections in the state,” said Rama Raman Mohanty, director of medical education and training.

Passengers from South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana will be screened at the Biju Patnaik International Airport in order to curb the possible transmission of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. As Bhubaneswar is the entry point for international travellers in the state, there is a need for screening of passengers coming from South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana, Mohanty said.

As per the government’s revised guidelines against the new mutant, returnees will undergo a COVID-19 test at airports. Their swab samples will be sent for genome sequencing if anyone tests positive.

In a video conference with district officials from Bhubaneswar on Sunday, chief secretary Suresh Chandra Mohapatra advised all block officials, ward members, and anganwadi and health workers to gather ground reports of Covid-19 infections in their areas and immediately take action if any cases are detected.

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