Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Wednesday chaired a review meeting of top health officials and experts on the country's Covid preparedness and directed officials to be alert and reinforce surveillance amid a surge in novel coronavirus cases globally.
'Covid is not over yet. I have directed all concerned to be alert and strengthen surveillance. We are prepared to manage any situation,' Mandaviya tweeted on Wednesday after the review meet.
Reports of a sudden spike in Covid cases in China, Japan, the US, and Brazil have surfaced. At least three cases of the subvariant BF.7 --n responsible for the surge in China — have been detected in India so far.
The first variant was detected in July in Gujarat. Thereafter, two more cases were found in Gujarat and Odisha, a senior health ministry official informed Business Standard.
The official said no surge in cases was detected after the variant was spotted.
Mandaviya told officials that it was important to be prepared and remain alert against new and emerging strains.
The meeting was attended by V K Paul, member-health, NITI Aayog, senior officials, and public health experts. Paul said precautions were especially integral to those with comorbidities and the elderly.
He also said there is no change in rules for international flights as of now.
India has been witnessing a steady decline in cases, with the average daily caseload falling to 158 in the week ended December 19. However, there has been a consistent rise in the global daily average caseload in the past six weeks, with 590,000 daily average cases reported in the week ended December 19.
An increasing number of Covid cases in some countries such as China, Japan, South Korea, France, and the US have cast a shadow on Christmas and New Year celebrations.
A new and highly transmissible BF.7 strain of the Omicron variant is behind a widespread surge of Covid infections in China.
Maharashtra, too, has said it would establish a taskforce in collaboration with the Centre to keep close tabs on the Covid situation in the state.
The state's Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said on Tuesday that in the wake of rising cases in neighbouring countries, Maharashtra has decided to form a taskforce to monitor the evolving situation.
Maharashtra Health Secretary Sanjay Khandare told Business Standard that because of rising cases in several countries, genome sequencing, too, will be stepped up.
"We will do a lot more genome sequencing to pick out any new strain of the virus in circulation," he said.
As for restrictions at entry-exit points for international travellers, Khandare said it is for the Centre to take a call.
Cases have not seen any spike in Maharashtra lately. On Tuesday, the state reported only 20 new Covid-positive cases. The state is thus edging towards being zero-Covid.
A senior health ministry official said states can, with the help of a taskforce, monitor emerging strains and signs of spike, if any. States can also monitor the clinical outcome of these new strains.
"If there are any symptoms/variants of concern, states can prepare accordingly," said a source, adding that the central task forces continue to work.
The health ministry has also asked all states to ramp up genome sequencing and send positive samples to the designated Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics laboratories.
Stressing that monitoring the trends of existing variants is the need of the hour, Union Secretary for Health Rajesh Bhushan said, "Such an exercise will enable timely detection of newer variants, if any, circulating in the country, and will facilitate the undertaking of requisite public health measures for the same."
US-based epidemiologist and health economist Eric Feigl-Ding tweeted that he estimates that more than 60 per cent of China and 10 per cent of the world's population are likely to be infected over the next 90 days with deaths likely in millions.
Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com