Amid mounting concerns over the potentially more contagious coronavirus variant Omicron spreading to many countries, Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan held a review meeting with states and Union territories on Tuesday and advised them to ramp up testing for early identification and management of cases.
Meanwhile, the Centre has also extended the nation-wide COVID-19 containment measures till December 31 keeping in view the rising cases of the new COVID variant in different parts of the world and asked the states to be vigilant.
While underlining that the new variant doesn't escape RT-PCR and RAT tests, Bhushan asked states and UTs to ensure adequate infrastructure and supervised home isolation, a Union health ministry official said.
Anticipating a possible threat that the new variant of concern can pose to the nation, the ministry has asked all states and UTs to focus on intensive containment, active surveillance, enhanced testing, monitoring of hotspots, increased coverage of vaccination and ensure augmentation of health infrastructure.
In a letter to states and UTs on November 28, Bhushan also stressed on rigorous surveillance of international passengers, ensuring prompt dispatch of samples for genome sequencing and strict enforcement of COVID appropriate behaviour to effectively manage this VoC.
The B.1.1.529 COVID variant or Omicron, first detected in South Africa last week, was designated by the World Health Organisation as a 'variant of concern', the health body's top category for worrying coronavirus variants.
A senior official said no case of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus has been detected in India yet and Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia INSACOG is closely monitoring the situation and expediting the results of genomic analysis of positive samples of international travellers.
On extending the containment measures, Union home secretary Ajay Bhalla asked states and UTs to strictly adhere to the November 25 advisory issued by the Union health ministry, recommending rigorous screening and testing of all international arrivals.
Bhalla also said that the contacts of the international travellers must be closely tracked and tested as per the health ministry guidelines, and the samples of travellers turning positive sent to the designated Genome Sequencing Laboratories promptly, as per the Indian SARS-CoV-2 genomics consortium guidance document.
He said the state surveillance officers must also establish close coordination with their designated or tagged genome sequencing laboratories for expediting results of genomic analysis, and the states and UTs should immediately undertake necessary public health measures, in case of the presence of variants of concern.
Accordingly, the home secretary directed that the existing 'prompt and effective containment measures for COVID-19' must be continued till December 31.
India logged 6,990 new coronavirus infections, the lowest in 551 days, taking the country's total tally of COVID-19 cases to 3,45,87,822, while the active cases have declined to 1,00,543, the lowest in 546 days, according to the Union health ministry data updated on Tuesday.
The death toll climbed to 4,68,980 with 190 fresh fatalities, according to the data.
The Centre on Sunday introduced stricter guidelines for people travelling from or transiting through 'at-risk' countries and issued a slew of directions to the states for ramping up testing-surveillance measures and health facilities.
It also decided to review the resumption of international flights.
The countries designated as 'at-risk' (updated as of November 26) include European countries, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel.