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COVID ‘Omicron’ variant: Centre advises States, UTs to enhance genomic surveillance of incoming passengers from ‘at risk’ countries

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New Delhi [India], November 28 (ANI): Following the emergence of the new COVID variant of concern ‘Omicron’, the Centre on Sunday advised States/UTs and nodal agencies to keep a strict vigil at airports and ports and focus on enhancing genomic surveillance of incoming passengers from “at-risk” countries.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday chaired a high-level meeting to review the emerging situation and India’s preparedness in terms of public health measures.

Following the World Health Organization’s (WHO) flagging the Omicron variant as a Variant of Concern, the Union Health Ministry has advised States/UTs regarding testing, surveillance, monitoring of hotspots, augmentation of health infrastructure, genome sequencing and enhancing public awareness.

According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the criticality of scrupulous implementation and rigorous monitoring of the three-pronged surveillance strategy of screening and testing 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 (IGSLs) were stressed upon along with enhanced testing and monitoring of COVID-19 hotspots.

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In wake of the emergence of the new COVID Variant of Concern ‘Omicron’, India will review its decision on the effective date of resumption of scheduled commercial international passengers services.

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The decision was taken in an urgent meeting chaired by Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla. The meeting followed the high-level review by Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the issue.According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, it was decided that the government will further review Standard Operating Procedure on testing and surveillance of incoming international passengers, especially for those countries identified ‘at risk’ category,Chairing the meeting today, the Home Secretary in presence of experts decided that a closer watch on the emerging pandemic situation within the country will be maintained.

Besides, other experts including Dr V K Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog, Dr Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to Prime Minister and senior officers from Health, Civil Aviation and other Ministries comprehensively reviewed the overall global situation in wake of the Omicron virus.

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, genomic surveillance for variants is to be further strengthened and intensified. “Airport Health Officials (APHOs) and Port Health Officials (PHOs) will be sensitized for strict supervision of testing protocol at airports and ports.”The strengthening and intensification of genomic surveillance for variants through the INSACOG network was agreed upon with a focus on sampling and whole-genome sequencing of international passengers especially from those countries where Omicron variant has been detected.

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India has categorized 16 countries including some in Europe in “at-risk” category.The countries include the UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Finland, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel. (ANI)

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