Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan on November 27 wrote to all states, asking for rigorous surveillance and increased testing of travellers coming from 'at risk' countries.
The letter from the Health Ministry has been issued in the wake of new coronavirus variant -- Omicron, which was first reported from South Africa on November 24. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also designated this variant as a new Variant of Concern (VoC).
"ln view of the possible threat that this VoC can pose to the nation, it is imperative that the intensive containment, active surveillance, increased coverage of vaccination and Covid Appropriate Behaviour must be enforced in the field in a very proactive manner to effectively manage this VoC," Bhushan said in the letter.
Among other things -- including enhanced testing, maintenance of covid appropriate behaviour, identification of hotspots and adequate availability of health facilities -- the Secretary also asked the states that all positive samples of travellers from at risk nations should be sent to INSACOG for genome sequencing.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
"INSACOG has been established to monitor the circulating variants in the country. It is important at this juncture that States must significantly increase sampling from the general population/community for genome sequencing by sending these samples to INSACOG Lab network as per the policy," the letter added.
Earlier on November 27, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired an important meeting on the COVID situation and the vaccination drive in the country with top officials. The meeting took place amid rising global concerns over a new strain of the coronavirus which the WHO has named ’Omicron.Also, the Union Health Ministry on November 26 said the countries in Europe, including the United Kingdom, and South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel have been put in the "at-risk" category. Passengers coming from 'at-risk' countries have to give their samples at the airport for RT-PCR testing, according to the Union Health Ministry's rules.