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On Omicron, keep eye out for changes in hospitalisation rate & mortality: Centre tells states

All samples from hotspots to be genome sequenced. States asked to step up surveillance at airports, but Centre objects to Maharashtra’s decision on testing all passengers.

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New Delhi: The central government has stated that no case of infection by the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been detected in India, but in a meeting Tuesday, it has also asked states to look out for any changes in hospitalisation rates or mortality profiles of Covid cases.

Genome sequencing of all samples from hotspots are also required.

In the meeting held by Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, states were also asked to watch out for breakthrough infections — those that happen over two weeks after a person has taken her second dose of the vaccine — now that almost 50 per cent of the eligible population in the country is fully vaccinated. 

There have been several cases of travellers from foreign countries entering India and testing positive, including one person from South Africa, but so far no genome analysis has detected the presence of the Omicron variant — believed to be the most mutated version of SARS-CoV-2 so far — in India. 

Also read: Centre asks states, UTs to ramp up testing amid concern over Omicron variant


Genome sequencing

In the Tuesday meeting, states were asked to send 100 per cent samples from hotspots for genome sequencing. 

Several states, including Maharashtra and Karnataka, have reported cluster outbreaks of Covid-19. In Karnataka, at least five clusters have been reported in the last one week, some in schools and at least one in a medical college. 

“In Tuesday’s meeting, Dr V.K. Paul (Member, Health, NITI Aayog) told the states that it is important to be vigilant and… some of the things that need to be monitored closely are any changes in hospitalisation rates, any changes in the mortality profile of Covid patients and also breakthrough infections. This is over and above the directions to send all samples from hotspots for genome analysis,” said a government source who was present in the meeting. 

States were asked in the same meeting to step up surveillance of international passengers, augment medical infrastructure should there be any drastic rise in cases, and also enhance testing.

Centre opposes Maharashtra rules for foreign travellers

Although states have been asked to step up surveillance of foreign travellers, the Centre Wednesday wrote to Maharashtra, opposing its guidelines for RT-PCR testing and mandatory quarantine of those entering the state. 

These guidelines were “in divergence with the SoPs & Guidelines issued by Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt. of lndia”, Health Secretary Bhushan wrote in his letter. 

“I would, therefore, urge you to align the Orders issued by the State with the Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt. Of lndia, so that uniform implementation of the guidelines may be ensured across all States/UTs. I would also advise that such modified orders of the State Government are given wide publicity to obviate any inconvenience to travellers,” Bhushan said.

The norms announced by Maharashtra include mandatory RT-PCR testing of all international travellers arriving at Mumbai airport, irrespective of country of origin and mandatory 14-day home quarantine for all such passengers even if they test Covid negative upon arrival.

Mandatory RT-PCR tests for passengers planning to take connecting flights from Mumbai are also required, along with negative RT-PCR tests 48 hours prior to the date of journey for domestic passengers arriving in Maharashtra. 

Under the government of India guidelines, these measures are only for some specified ‘at risk’ countries—some European countries including the UK, South Africa, Brazil, Botswana, Hong Kong, Israel etc. 

Two per cent of travellers arriving from other countries will be subjected to random RT-PCR tests. Those who test negative would be required to self-monitor their health for 14 days.

(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)

Also read: ‘Bruce Lee assault’ — ICMR official explains why Covaxin may have edge against Omicron


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