Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday directed a review of plans to ease international travel restrictions in light of the emerging new COVID-19 virus variant B.1.1.529 (Omicron) found in South Africa that has been designated as a ‘Variant of Concern’ by the World Health Organization (WHO).
In a two-hour-long meeting with senior Central Government officials, Mr. Modi highlighted the need for monitoring all international arrivals and testing as per guidelines, with a specific focus on countries identified ‘at risk’.
The Prime Minister also asked officials to increase the second dose COVID-19 vaccine coverage at the comprehensive meeting he chaired to review the public health preparedness and vaccination situation for COVID-19.
He directed that genome sequencing samples be collected from international travellers and community as per norms, tested through the network of labs already established under INSACOG, and early warning signals identified for COVID-19 management. He spoke about the need to increase the sequencing efforts and make it more broad-based.
Central Government officials have been instructed to coordinate with States to ensure that there are adequate buffer stocks of various medicines and work with them to review the functioning of medical infrastructure, including paediatric facilities.
Mr. Modi asked officials to coordinate with States to ensure proper functioning of PSA oxygen plants and ventilators.
At the meeting, which was attended by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba; V.K. Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog; Home Secretary A.K. Bhalla; Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan and others, the Prime Minister was briefed on the global trends on COVID-19 infections and cases.
Officials highlighted that countries across the world had experienced multiple COVID-19 surges since the onset of the pandemic. Mr. Modi also reviewed the national situation relating to cases and test positivity rates.
The Prime Minister was apprised of the progress in vaccination and the efforts being made under the ‘Har Ghar Dastak’ campaign and briefed on Omicron, along with its characteristics and the impact seen in various countries.
“Its [the new variant’s] implications for India were also discussed,” said a release issued by the PMO.
At the meeting, the Prime Minister spoke about the need to be proactive in light of the new variant and said that people needed to be more cautious and follow precautions such as masking and social distancing.
At the meeting, officials were asked to work closely with State Governments to ensure that there is proper awareness at the State and district level.
Mr. Modi said that intensive containment and active surveillance should continue in clusters reporting higher cases and required technical support be provided to States that are reporting higher cases. He added that awareness needed to be created on ventilation and air-borne behaviour of the virus.