NEW DELHI: The Centre has issued fresh guidelines for international arrivals as cases of mutant variants of Covid-19 from South Africa and Brazil were detected in India. The new guidelines have made Covid tests mandatory on arrival for those travelling from the UK, Europe, and the Middle East.
The new standard operating procedure will come into effect from February 22.
As the spread of mutant variants of SARS-CoV-2 has been reported from many countries, the Union ministry of health and family welfare late on Wednesday evening released the new guidelines for international arrivals which formalises the testing procedure.
Three variants- B.1.1.7 which was first identified in the UK, B.1.135 which originated in South African and the P.1 variant which originated in Brazil- have so far been detected in 86, 44 and 15 countries respectively.
These variants have demonstrated increased transmissibility, raising concerns of another spike in cases. Even more worryingly, the Covid-19 vaccines developed so far have been found to be less effective in case of some of these mutations.
So far, 4 cases of the South African variant of the coronavirus have been detected in four people who came to the country from Africa in January while one case of infection with the Brazilian variant has also been found apart from 187 cases of the UK variant.
The latest guidelines cover all international travellers coming or transiting through flights originating in the UK, Europe and the Middle East.
Though no new strain has been detected in the Middle East, travellers from Brazil and South Africa transit through the region to reach India as the country does not have direct flights with Brazil and South Africa.
The government has suspended international scheduled flights until February 28 and overseas flights to and from India are currently operated as per air bubble agreements with various countries.
“All international travellers arriving in India will have to present a negative RT-PCR test, conducted not more than 72 hours before undertaking the journey,” said the guidelines accompanied by an algorithm for all international arrivals.
For travellers coming from destinations other than the UK, Europe and the Middle East, this condition will be waived if they are travelling due to exigent circumstances, such as the death of a family member, it said.
All the airlines have also been asked to segregate passengers originating from the UK, Europe and the Middle East to facilitate authorities in following due protocol. Those arriving from these countries will mandatorily be subjected to a self-paid confirmatory molecular test.
The government advisory also said that in case any person arriving from these countries tests positive for Covid-19, their samples will be taken for genome sequencing of the strain.