Hyderabad: The State Health Department has sounded a high alert and has tightened surveillance activities at the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport after the highly-transmissible new variant B.1.1.529 of SARS-CoV-2 virus was reported in South Africa.
The surveillance teams are focusing on all international travellers from and transiting through Botswana, South Africa, Israel, Belgium and Hong Kong. The health teams will subject travellers from these countries to rigorous screening and testing based on guidelines released by the Union Ministry of Health of Family Welfare.
The contacts of these international travellers will also be closely tracked and tested based on MoHFW guidelines. In case travellers turn positive, their samples will be sent to the designated nearest Genome Sequencing Laboratory (GSL) i.e. Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, which is also part of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) that tracks emerging new Variants of Concerns (VoCs) in the country.
If need be, the Health Department will also post additional district surveillance teams at RGIA to track travellers from these countries. If a traveller tests positive, they will be immediately shifted to a healthcare facility for isolation and treatment while surveillance teams will start the process of tracking their close contacts.
“We are on a high alert and our surveillance and public health teams are working round-the-clock to track any kind of new variants,” Director of Public Health Dr G Srinivasa Rao said. If need be, other point of entries like ports in Andhra Pradesh will also be alerted and special surveillance teams will be stationed to track travellers arriving from those countries where cases of Covid from the new variant have been reported, health officials said.
So far, over 100 cases of Covid caused by Omicron variant have been detected in South Africa, where the new strain is gradually becoming the dominant one. While the WHO says it will take a few weeks to understand the impact of the new variant, health officials here have pointed out that alert surveillance teams in Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam and Vijayawada should be able to track all travellers from the ‘at risk’ countries.
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