Pre-empting Omicron

IN a welcome decision, the Jammu and Kashmir administration has decided to make RT-PCR testing mandatory for all foreign travellers to the Union territory at airports to tackle the coronavirus variant Omicron’s threat. The travellers will be allowed to enter J&K only if they test negative. If the report is negative,  the travellers will be sent to home quarantine for seven days and re-tested on the eighth day.  And those who test positive will be sent to institutional isolation centres for 15 days and their samples sent for genome sequencing at ICMR-approved laboratories.

The decision follows the sudden advent of the new Covid-19 strain Omicron in South Africa which the World Health Organization has described as a variant “of concern.” This has already persuaded the union government to review its strategy of letting in foreign travellers. In a two-hour long recent meeting with senior officials, Prime Minister Narendra Modi directed officials to review plans for easing of international travel restrictions. The PM said travellers must be tested on arrival as per guidelines and called for a particular focus on countries identified “at risk”. He laid emphasis on increasing coverage of the second dose of the vaccine so that adequate immunity is achieved against fresh infections. The PM also urged people to adopt masking and social distancing to prevent the infection from spreading.

Meanwhile, Omicron poses a serious threat to the world economy which was beginning to rebound from the lockdowns of the last one and a half year. The new strain is believed to be deadlier than the previous strains including the Delta. A South African communicable diseases expert has said that Omicron  “will outcompete Delta”. Even though, the countries are putting strick checks in place for the fresh visitors, some infected persons are slipping through the checks. Saudi has confirmed its first case of Omicron variant coming from a north African country. So, there is fear that the new strain will be difficult to contain despite the restrictions.

For now, however, India has no cause for alarm. On Wednesday, India reported reported just 8,954 new coronavirus cases and 267 related fatalities. The national recovery rate currently stands at 98.36 per cent, which is the highest since March 2020. The active cases in the country standd at 99,023 or 0.29 percent of the total cases. But the country can’t afford to let its guard down. So, while strict restrictions should be in place for the travellers at the airports, the union and the state governments have to also enforce SOPs to ensure there is no fresh surge in delta related cases.

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