In wake of transmission of the highly mutated covid-19 variant 8.1.1529 in Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong, Centre on Thursday asked states strictly screen and test travellers arriving from these countries as the international travel continues to ease.

Rajesh Bhushan, union health secretary in a letter written to the additional Chief Secretaries, Principal Secretary and Secretary (Health) of all States/UTs said that the national centre for disease control (NCDC) has informed that multiple cases of a covid-19 variant 8.1.1529 have been reported in Botswana (3 cases), South Africa (6 cases) and Hong Kong (1 case).

 “This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and thus, has serious public health implications for the country, in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel,” said Bhushan in the letter.

 “lt is therefore imperative that all international travellers travelling from and transiting through these countries, (they are part of the “at risk” Country Category of international travellers coming to lndia) and also including all other ‘at risk’ countries indicated in the revised Guidelines for lnternational Arrivals issued by this Ministry dated 11.11.2021, are subjected to rigorous screening and testing, as per ministry of health Guidelines,” he said adding that the contacts of these international travellers must also be closely tracked and tested as per union health ministry guidelines.

The monitoring of Variants of Concern/ Variants of lnterest (VoCs/ VoI) of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Whole Genome Sequencing activity is being coordinated in the country through the Indian SARS-CoY-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) and National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), which is the Nodal Agency for INSACOG.

The aim of this activity is tracking and monitoring emergence and transmission of covid-19 VoCsA/ols in the country, Bhushan said.

Bhushan citing previous communications from the health ministry reiterated 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 (lGSLs).

 “You are also requested to ensure that samples of travellers turning positive are sent to the designated IGSLs promptly as per the INSACOG Guidance Document issued by this Ministry,” said Bhushan in the letter.

He said that State Surveillance Officers must also establish close coordination with their designated/tagged IGSLs for expediting results of genomic analysis, so that necessary public health measures may be undertaken by the States/UTs in case presence of VOCsA/ols is reported by the INSACOG network.

lt is critical for the States/UTs to adhere to the overarching ‘Test-Track- Treat-Vaccinate’ principle to ensure stringent implementation of containment measures as per MoHFW guidelines, and to prevent the spread of VoCA/ols and formation of clusters of cases, the health secretary further said.

Over 9,119 new coronavirus cases were reported in the last 24 hours. The Active Caseload presentlystands at 1,09,940. Active cases presently constitute 0.32% of the country’s total Positive Cases, which is lowest since March 2020, the union health ministry data showed. Weekly Positivity Rate at 0.90% remains less than 2% for the last 62 days now. The Daily Positivity rate reported to be0.79%. The daily Positivity rate has remained below2% for last 52 days and below 3% for 87 consecutive days now, the government said.

Meanwhile India’s cumulative covid-19 vaccination coverage on Thursday neared 120 crores.

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