COVID surge in China: Experts debate reintroduction of screening at airports

While some experts in the State say this is an ideal scenario to restart screening, some say it is better to wait and watch

November 29, 2022 09:26 pm | Updated November 30, 2022 02:14 pm IST - Bengaluru

According to the new guidelines, all COVID restrictions have been relaxed with effect from November 22.

According to the new guidelines, all COVID restrictions have been relaxed with effect from November 22. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In the light of the ongoing COVID surge in China, is there a need to reintroduce screening of arriving international passengers at the airports? COVID experts in Karnataka have different views. While some feel this is an ideal scenario to restart screening at airports, some said it is better to wait and watch rather than take a knee-jerk reaction.

The State’s COVID-19 Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) that met last week discussed the international scenario and the Union Health Ministry’s new guidelines for international arrivals relaxing all restrictions (issued on November 21). According to the new guidelines, all COVID restrictions have been relaxed with effect from November 22.

‘Take situation seriously’

Although the TAC has recommended that the State should endorse the Centre’s guidelines relaxing the norms and issue a circular for implementation, a senior TAC member said the prevailing situation in China should be taken seriously. “Going by what is happening in China in the last three weeks, this is an ideal scenario for reintroducing screening and testing of symptomatic arriving international passengers at airports. But as this decision has to be taken by the Centre, the TAC cannot make a recommendation regarding this,” he said.

“It is important to make it mandatory that those directly arriving from China should carry a negative RT-PCR certificate that is not older than 72 hours. This is an ideal recommended action. We have to be cautious going by past experience,” the member, who did not want to be quoted, said.

Haleema Yezdani, a city-based telemedicine specialist, said airports are definitely a point of concern and there has to be vigilance and screening at the airports at this juncture. “Testing all symptomatic people, especially at the airport, who have a history of recent travel to any country, should begin. Although cases in India are much less now compared to last month, we should not let our guard down. This, mainly going by the past experience of how the virus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 and spread to other countries,” she said.

However, another TAC member V. Ravi and COVID Clinical Experts Committee member C.N. Manjunath said there is no need for a knee-jerk reaction.

“Reintroducing screening and testing at airports now will not serve any purpose. The situation is dynamic and evolving. We will have to wait and watch as the surge is not attributed to a new Variant of Concern (VoC). What we know is that the circulating variants are sub-lineages of Omicron that are not known to cause disease severity, large-scale hospitalisations and deaths,” said Dr. Ravi, who heads the State’s Genomic Surveillance Committee.

Pointing out that such restrictions may be required only if a new VoC is detected, Dr. Ravi said: “We have a very good immunisation record and serious infections and hospital admissions are virtually nil. Wearing a mask and ensuring that the remaining population is vaccinated is the solution.”

Dr. Manjunath said the surge in China has been ongoing for several months. “Some African nations also reported a surge a few months ago but the situation there has become normal now. We have not heard of large-scale hospital admissions there. All economic activities have resumed across the world and we are also seeing lakhs attending the world cup in Doha,” he said.

He pointed out that China’s ‘zero COVID strategy’ is only interfering with the development of herd immunity there.

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