The central government is likely to issue a comprehensive advisory to states on Thursday which may contain guidelines on following Covid-19 protocol like masking and social distancing especially during New Year celebrations in public areas.
Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya made a statement to this effect in Parliament in the afternoon ahead of a high-level meeting in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi will review the Covid-19 situation in the country.
Covid-19 returned to the centre of India’s health map with the government advising people to get vaccinated and mask up, and saying random sample testing will be conducted at airports for passengers arriving from China and other countries.Three cases of Omicron sub-variant BF.7, apparently the strain driving China’s current surge of Covid cases, have been detected in India so far.
BF.7 is a sub-lineage of the Omicron variant BA.5 and has the strongest infection ability since it is highly transmissible, has a shorter incubation period, and a higher capacity to cause reinfection or infect even those vaccinated. The first case of BF.7 in India was detected in October by Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre. So far, two cases have been reported from Gujarat and one from Odisha
Sources said the new advisory to states could contain the following points:
The necessity to bring back the culture of wearing masks
Stressing the importance of washing/sanitising hands frequently
Guidelines on avoiding over-crowding in public places and maintaining proper social distancing during New Year celebrations
Testing and tracing is likely to be made compulsory at airports for people with travel history to China
The infrastructure for quarantine and testing will be set up again in the next week
A top Health Ministry official told that the government is committed to not let Covid numbers spread to unmanageable levels. “Is baar chahe jo ho jaaye, corona ko ghusne nahi denge (come what may, we won’t let the coronavirus spread),” he said. In the Covid-19 review meeting chaired by Health Minister Mandaviya on Wednesday, experts said although there is no overall increase in caseload as of now, there is a need for continued surveillance to keep a track of existing and emerging variants.
Noting that only 27 to 28 per cent of India’s eligible population have taken the Covid precaution dose, NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr V K Paul, after the meeting, said people should take the jab and also wear masks in crowded places. “People should wear masks in crowded areas. Those with comorbidities and the old should especially adhere to this,” Paul said and urged people not to panic.
HOW DANGEROUS IS BF.7 VARIANT?
Chinese cities are currently hit by the highly transmissible Omicron strain, mostly BF.7 which is the main variant spreading in Beijing and is contributing to a wider surge of Covid infections in that country. “The BF.7’s high transmissibility in China might be attributed to a low level of immunity in the Chinese population from the previous infection and possibly vaccination too,” an official source said.
It has already been detected in several other countries, including the US, the UK and European nations such as Belgium, Germany, France and Denmark. Official sources said random sample testing for coronavirus will be conducted at airports for international passengers arriving from China and other countries.