A healthcare worker collects a swab for a rapid antigen test for COVID-19 from a farmer in his field in Banaskantha district in the western state of Gujarat. (Representative image: Reuters)
Amidst a heightened level of concern over the Omicron variant of coronavirus, the Union Health Ministry has asked states and union territories to send “all positive samples” from COVID-19 hotspots for genome sequencing to designated INSACOG labs “in a prompt manner”.
Chairing a high-level meeting to review public health preparedness in the country amid reports of Omicron infection across various countries, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan advised states and UTs not to let their guard down and keep a strict vigil on the international passengers coming to the country through various airports, ports, and land border crossings and stressed on strict monitoring of hotspots.
In the meeting, the states and UTs were advised to continue monitoring of areas where a recent cluster of positive cases have emerged, an official statement said. They were also asked to send all positive samples for genome sequencing to the designated Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Sequencing Consortium (INSACOG) Lab in a prompt manner, it said. Earlier, only about five percent of samples from positive cases detected by RT-PCR tests were sent for genome sequencing.
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All the state surveillance officers must also establish close coordination with their designated or tagged genome sequencing laboratories for expediting results of genomic analysis, and the states and UTs should immediately undertake necessary public health measures, in case of the presence of variants of concern.
States were also asked to undertake contact tracing of positive individuals and follow up for 14 days.
During the meeting, DG, ICMR Dr Balram Bhargava informed the participants that the Omicron variant doesn't escape RT-PCR and RAT and hence, states and UTs were advised to ramp up testing for prompt and early identification of cases.
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The Centre also extended the nationwide COVID-19 containment measures till December 31 and Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote to state and UTs, asking them to strictly adhere to the November 25 advisory issued by the Union Health Ministry, recommending rigorous screening and testing of all international arrivals.
Also read | COVID-19 related restrictions extended in West Bengal till December 15
Under the new travel norms, effective from November 30 at midnight, RT-PCR tests are mandatory for passengers arriving from 'at-risk countries and they will be allowed to leave the airport only after the test results come. Also, randomly five percent of the passengers arriving on flights from other countries will be subject to the test. The government has advised international passengers from 'at-risk countries to prepare to wait at the airports till the report of the RT-PCR test was available and not book connecting flights beforehand.