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Govt reviews COVID situation; advises people to mask up, get vaccinated; no change in international air travel norms yet


NEW DELHI: In view of a sudden spurt in COVID cases in China and some other countries, the Union health minister on Wednesday reviewed the situation in the country and asked people to follow COVID-appropriate behaviour, including wearing masks in crowded places, and get vaccinated.

“COVID is not over yet. I have directed all concerned to be alert and strengthen surveillance. We are prepared to manage any situation,” Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said.

During the meeting, attended by experts and senior officials, the minister was briefed on the global COVID-19 situation and the domestic scenario, including the preparedness of all stakeholders.

Noting that only 27-28 per cent of India’s eligible population have taken the precaution dose of COVID-19, NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr V K Paul, after the meeting, said people should take the jab and also wear masks in crowded places.

Paul urged people not to panic and said that there was no change in the guidelines for international air travel so far.

“People should wear masks in crowded areas. Those with comorbidities and old should especially adhere to this,” Paul said.

The government will again hold a meeting next week to monitor the situation.

Underlining the challenge posed by the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in some countries across the world such as China, Japan, South Korea, France and the United States, Mandaviya noted the importance of being prepared and remaining alert against new and emerging strains of COVID-19, especially in view of the upcoming festive season.

He directed for strengthening of the surveillance system for whole genome sequencing of positive case samples to track the variants through the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) network to ensure the timely detection of newer variants, if any, circulating in the country.

This would facilitate the undertaking of appropriate public health measures. States/UTs have been requested to send samples of all COVID-19 positive cases to INSACOG Genome Sequencing Laboratories (IGSLs) on a daily basis, for sequencing, to track new variants, if any, a health ministry statement said.

In a presentation, the Minister was briefed that India has been witnessing a steady decline in cases with average daily cases falling to 158 in the week ending December 19, 2022.

However, a consistent rise in global daily average cases has been reported for the last six weeks, with 5.9 lakh daily average cases reported in the week ending December 19, 2022.

A new and highly transmissible BF.7 strain of the Omicron variant is behind a wider surge of COVID infections in China, the statement said.

The Union Health Ministry has already issued “Operational Guidelines for Revised Surveillance Strategy in context of COVID-19” in June 2022 which calls for early detection, isolation, testing and timely management of suspected and confirmed cases to detect and contain outbreaks of new SARS-CoV-2 variants.

Mandaviya directed officials to ensure effective implementation of the same.

During the meeting, it was highlighted that Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana and Tamil Nadu are the top five states contributing in terms of new Covid cases even though there is a consistent decline in the overall Covid caseload in the country.

These five states accounted for 84 per cent of the daily new cases reported on December 20, 2022.

During the meeting, it was also highlighted that no severity in cases was being seen so far. Secretary Pharma and Ayush were asked to keep stock of medicines that were used during Covid as a precautionary measure.

Apart from Paul, the secretaries of health, department of pharmaceuticals, department of biotechnology, Ayush, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director General Rajiv Bahl, and National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI) Chairman Dr N K Arora were among those who attended the meeting.

In view of the rise in cases in Japan, the United States of America, the Republic of Korea, Brazil and China the Union Health Ministry on Tuesday urged all states and Union territories to ramp up the whole genome sequencing of positive samples of Covid to keep track of emerging variants.

In a letter to states and UTs, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan had said such an exercise will enable timely detection of newer variants, if any, circulating in the country and will facilitate the undertaking of requisite public health measures. (PTI)

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