Foreign travellers in India new rules: On Thursday, the Union Health Ministry gave some new rules for foreign travellers. States were directed by the Centre that international travellers transiting via or coming from South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana needed to undergo rigorous testing as well as screening. This is because the new heavily mutated COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529 is spreading in these countries with multiple cases having been reported there. Notably, India has already dealt with the severe Delta variant earlier this year in a major second wave, and so, it makes sense that the advisory was issued as soon as concerns regarding the variant started making rounds in the scientific community.
A report in IE cited Rajesh Bhushan, the Health Secretary, as saying that as per the National Centre for Disease Control in India, Botswana has reported four cases of the new variant, Hong Kong has reported two, while South Africa has reported 22 cases. The Health Secretary also said that since the variant B.1.1.529 has a very high number of mutations, it can be a severe issue for India considering the fact that the country has been relaxing visa norms and opening up its doors to international travel after having remained shut to a large extent for over a year. These factors make it imperative that an advisory is issued to ensure that relaxed norms do not lead to an issue for public health in India.
These countries are a part of India’s list of ‘at-risk’ countries, and therefore, international travellers coming from or coming via these places would need to undergo strict screening and testing procedures. Apart from this, the contacts of such travellers would also be tracked closely.
With this, if any sample from travellers tests positive for COVID-19, states would have to send it to the labs designated under INSACOG or Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genetics Consortium. INSACOG tracks as well as monitors the COVID-19 variants that are of concern and of interest in India for their emergence and transmission. Apart from this, the state surveillance officers would need to coordinate with INSACOG labs and follow the test-track-treat principle to prevent the variant from transmitting.