India to scale up Omicron surveillance after second wave horrors
New Delhi: The Central government today issued new rules for international travellers which will be effective from midnight. These were announced following a high-level meeting to review public health preparedness with states and UTs in view of ‘Omicron’.
India will bolster Covid-19 genome sequencing efforts, hoping early detection of the newly-emerged omicron variant will help avoid a repeat of the delta-fueled wave of infections that brought its health system close to collapse earlier this year.
Public health officials aim to analyze positive tests from airports within 48 hours and more than a dozen state-funded laboratories may be added to the current 38 that are part of the Indian SARs-COV-2 Genomics Consortium, or INSACOG, according to Priya Abraham, director of National Institute of Virology.
“We learnt a lot from the second wave,” Abraham, whose institution has been instrumental in detecting and mapping Covid in India, said in an interview. “The country as a whole and the government of India realizes this capacity has to be exponentially expanded.”
However, concerns remain about gaps in India’s overall Covid-19 surveillance, especially given its past track record of lax imposition of testing and isolation protocols ahead of the emergence of the newest variant.
After opening up its borders to foreign tourists in recent weeks following dwindling infection rates, India on Wednesday will reimpose airport testing and home quarantine for fully vaccinated arrivals from countries that have registered omicron cases. The variant, which was first identified in southern Africa last week, is feared to be more transmissible and able to evade vaccine barriers than the predominant delta strain that emerged in India.
Despite the moves to ramp up both testing and sequencing, some government officials and experts speculate that omicron may already be circulating in the nation that’s home to about 1.4 billion people, but which along with other large countries like China and the US has yet to detect a single case.
Abraham’s NIV, which holds a library of about 300 Covid strains and is headquartered in the western city of Pune, will also seek to isolate omicron to allow Indian vaccine makers, including Bharat Biotech International Ltd. and the Serum Institute of India Ltd., to potentially calibrate their shots to the new variant. Spokespeople from both companies weren’t able to immediately comment.
The moves follow criticism that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for months downplayed the early warning signs of delta’s existence before it was designated a variant of concern in May, allowing mass public gatherings to continue during state elections and religious events despite soaring infection rates.