India ups travel surveillance amid Omicron spread

Wednesday 01st December 2021 06:21 EST

With the proposed resumption of international flights on December 15 under review, the government issued fresh guidelines, mandating RT-PCR test on arrival for all passengers from Covid at-risk countries. While those testing positive will be isolated and their samples sent for genomic testing, those testing negative will have to home-quarantine for a week and test on the eighth day.

As of November 26, the list of at-risk countries include: countries in Europe including UK, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel. Flyers also have to declare their travel details for the past 14 days.

The Centre has asked states and UTs to focus on containment, surveillance and increased vaccination coverage besides beefing up genome sequencing measures. The enhanced protocol came on a day the Omicron variant surfaced in the Netherlands and Denmark, and Australia - half a world apart - and more countries tightened travel restrictions. Israel barred entry to foreigners and approved controversial phonetracking of contacts. Morocco suspended all incoming air travel from around the world for two weeks. Indonesia and Saudi Arabia too imposed fresh curbs.

Based on preliminary analysis of Omicron infections in South Africa and elsewhere, experts suggest that it has six times higher potential to spread (R value) than the Delta variant that had triggered the second wave in India. It could also evade the immune system. It may also cause vaccine breakthrough infections.

The Delta variant, which causes heavy infections and mortality, responds to monoclonal antibody therapy. However, its offspring, the Delta plus, did not respond to this therapy, considered a miracle treatment for Covid-19 in initial stages of infection. After the Delta plus, Omicron is the second variant of concern that may not respond to monoclonal antibody treatment.

Omicron risk very high: WHO

The Omicron coronavirus variant is likely to spread internationally, posing a “very high” global risk of infection surges that could have “severe consequences” in some areas, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said. It urged its 194 member states to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups and, in anticipation of increased case numbers, to “ensure mitigation plans are in place” to maintain essential health services.

“Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,” the WHO said. “The overall global risk related to the new variant... is assessed as very high.” To date, no deaths linked to Omicron had been reported, though further research was needed to assess Omicron’s potential to escape protection against immunity induced by vaccines and previous infections, it said.

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