As concerns have mounted over the potentially more contagious Omicron coronavirus variant spreading to many countries, the Union government on Sunday, November 28, decided to review the resumption of international flights and introduced stricter guidelines for people travelling from or transiting through 'at-risk' countries. Alert to the looming threat from the Omicron variant, states began to re-tighten curbs and urgently trace people who arrived from abroad in the last one month. Subsequently, a demand to not allow flights from the affected countries was made by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai. Hereâ€™s what the five southern states have said:
The Telangana government said on Sunday, November 28, that it has strengthened its COVID-19 surveillance system and alerted teams in view of the threat of Omicron, even as the state recorded 135 new cases and one death, taking the caseload to 6.75 lakh and the toll to 3,989.
The new 'Omicron' variant has been detected in South Africa, Botswana, Australia, Hong Kong and some European countries and hence fully vaccinated passengers arriving from these places will be quarantined at home and be monitored, state Director of Public Health, G Srinivasa Rao told reporters. â€śTests will be done on those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated and samples sent to the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD) lab for genome sequencing if anyone tests positive,â€ť he said.
"We still don't know much about it. Whenever we receive an alert during a pandemic, we have to be alert," the official said, referring to the advisory of the Union Health Ministry to all states to be on alert. Telangana Health Minister T Harish Rao also held a meeting with top officials to review preparations and surveillance measures regarding the new variant.
The Tamil Nadu government has directed district administrations to intensify surveillance and carry out field tests. In a letter to the district officials shared with the media, state Health Secretary J Radhakrishnan said the Union Health Secretary wrote to him about the reports of emergence of a new variant and directed the states to be alert.
District Collectors were apprised about the instructions while field level inspections were carried out at the Chennai airport by the Health Minister and senior department officials. The new variant (Omicron) has 'immune escape potential' and possible transmissibility advantage compared to Delta variant, and subsequent transmission of Omicron in South East Asia region, including India was 'high', he stated in the letter.
Radhakrishnan warned that in case of another surge of COVID-19 driven by the 'Omicron' variant, the consequences would be 'severe.' He stressed that enhancing surveillance and field level investigations, use of facial masks, physical distancing, and hand hygiene remain key to reducing transmission of COVID-19.
He also said authorities should ensure that mitigation plans are put in place to maintain essential health services and necessary health care resources are in place to respond to potential surges.
"I would like to inform that in light of various reports of emerging new variant of concern and the anxiety among people, the situation has been shared not only to sensitise the districts on the emerging scenario but also that we are adequately prepared and are ready to tackle such public health challenges..," the top health official said.
Referring to the scare created by Omicron, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai on Sunday, November 28, said, "The new variant has been reported in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana. The World Health Organisation has also issued an alert about the new strain of the virus. Prime Minister Narendra Modi too has issued guidelines to prevent and control the new variant. However, no cases of the new strain have been reported in Karnataka."
Those arriving from the countries which have reported the new strain are being compulsorily tested at the airports and they would be allowed into the cities only if they are found negative, he said. Those who test positive would be shifted to the containment zone. "We have requested the Union government to ban the arrival of passengers from the three countries which have reported the new strain," Bommai said.
Two South African returnees to Bengaluru, who tested positive for COVID-19, were found to be infected with the Delta variant, a Karnataka official said on Sunday.
Kerala too, has taken precautionary measures as per the guidelines of the Union government. In a statement, Kerala Health Minister Veena George said that surveillance would be stepped up at airports and added that there was no cause for concern as of now
All passengers coming to the state from countries where the variant has been reported will undergo an RT-PCR test within 72 hours. Veena George added that samples would also be sent for genetic testing, to identify if any variants were present in the state.
While the Andhra Pradesh government hasnâ€™t issued any separate statement on the Omicron variant, it is expected to follow guidelines issued by the Union government. This would include screening international passengers arriving at the three main airports in the state â€” in Vijayawada, Visakhapatnam and Tirupati. The YS Jagan Mohan Reddy government is also expected to activate its village and ward volunteers to keep a track on the variant.
According to the state government's COVID-19 dashboard, which is updated every 24 hours, the state has reported 20.69 lakh cases, of which 20.53 lakh have recovered while 14.438 people succumbed to the disease. The number of active cases in Andhra Pradesh stands at 2,140.
With IANS and PTI inputs