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Omicron concern: Samples of South Africa returnees at Chandigarh, Mumbai sent for genome sequencing

The Mumbai airport authority has informed that around 1,000 travellers landed in Mumbai from African countries in the last fortnight, but it has handed over a list of only 466 such passengers so far.

Published: 30th November 2021 09:53 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th November 2021 09:53 AM   |  A+A-

Mumbai airport, coronavirus lockdown

Passengers stand in a queue as they arrive at an airport (File Photo | PTI)

By PTI

MUMBAI: At least 1,000 travellers landed in Mumbai in the last fortnight from African countries where the potentially more transmissible 'Omicron' variant of coronavirus has been detected, a senior official of the city civic body said.

Swab samples were collected of at least 100 travellers out of the 466 whose list was received so far, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's (BMC) Additional Municipal Commissioner Suresh Kakani told PTI on Monday.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday warned that the global risk from the Omicron variant is "very high" based on early evidence, saying the mutated coronavirus could lead to surges with "severe consequences."

The UN health agency, in a technical paper issued to member states, said "considerable uncertainties" remain about the variant, that was first detected days ago in southern Africa.

Amid these concerns, Kakani said the airport authority has informed that around 1,000 travellers landed in Mumbai from African countries in the last fortnight, but it has handed over a list of only 466 such passengers so far.

"Out of the 466 travellers, 100 are from Mumbai. We have already collected their swab samples. Their reports are expected soon. It will be clear if they are positive or negative to coronavirus," Kakani said.

"There won't be an issue if their test report is negative, but the civic body is going to conduct genome sequencing of positive samples, along with the S-gene missing test that is advised by the WHO for faster detection of the infection due to Omicron, without genome sequencing," he said.

If the S-gene is missing, in that case, it is presumed that he (traveller) may be infected (with Omicron), the official said, adding that the genome sequencing will confirm the infection.

The infected travellers, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic, will be shifted to the civic body's institutional quarantine facility at the civic-run Seven Hills Hospital in suburban Andheri, he said.

Amid the rising concerns over Omicron, the BMC has kept all its five hospitals and jumbo facilities ready, the official said.

Measures are being taken for the structural audit, fire audit, oxygen supply system audit, stocking adequate medicines and appointment of manpower.

Five jumbo centres are already functioning, he said.

"We have to upgrade the facilities. One or two wards are already activated, but as and when required, we can activate more wards in the same jumbo facilities," he added.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Monday expressed concern over tracking those international passengers who don't land directly in Mumbai but then travel to the state using other means.

He said it will be easier to stop the spread of coronavirus infection if information about such travellers is shared.

The issue of the new variant was also discussed in the Cabinet meeting here.

"The meeting also discussed the issue of how to check the passengers arriving from abroad without landing directly at Mumbai or other airports in Maharashtra and then travelling at other places in the country by domestic airlines, road or rail. The question is how to test such people and the prime minister should be apprised of this," a statement quoting Thackeray said.

"Information of the passengers coming from abroad should be received regularly so that they can be monitored and the infection can be prevented in time," the statement added.

No confirmed case of the Omicron variant is detected so far in Maharashtra.

Countries that are currently recording a spike in the cases are witnessing the biggest wave.

France, Germany, the Netherlands and Austria are reporting more than 30,000 people (cases), the CM noted.

Currently, masks are most needed for prevention, he stressed.

The Central government has made it mandatory for passengers from 12 countries to take the RT-PCR test 72 hours before boarding a flight.

RT-PCR test is made mandatory once they land here, the CM said.

South African scientists identified a new version of the coronavirus that they say is behind a recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Gauteng, the most populous province in that country.

It's unclear where the new variant first emerged, but scientists in South Africa alerted the World Health Organisation in recent days, and it has now been seen in travellers arriving in several countries, from Australia to Israel to the Netherlands.

On Friday, the WHO designated it as a variant of concern, naming it Omicron after a letter in the Greek alphabet.

The new variant has forced several countries to impose fresh travel restrictions.

A 32-year-old man who tested positive for coronavirus here in Maharashtra after returning from South Africa has been kept in isolation at a civic COVID-19 care centre and his sample has been sent for genome sequencing, amid concerns over the potentially more transmissible new 'Omicron' variant of the virus, an official said on Monday.

The result will be known after seven days, Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Corporation's (KDMC) epidemic control officer Dr Pratibha Panpatil said.

It was not known so far where he had contracted the 'Omicron' variant of the virus, which was identified as the variant of concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the official said.

KDMC Commissioner Dr Vijay Suryavanshi has appealed to citizens of the Kalyan-Dombivli township not to panic due to the recent developments and strictly adhere to the COVID-19 safety protocols.

The man, a Merchant Navy engineer, arrived in Dombivli town of Thane district on November 24 after travelling from South Africa, Dubai and Delhi.

He later underwent a test, as per the government's recent protocol on account of the new virus variant, and was found to have contracted the coronavirus, Panpatil said.

Eight of his family members were also tested and their reports came out negative, another official said.

The civic authorities are gathering details of the man's co-passengers to know their health status, Panpatil said.

After the engineer arrived from South Africa, his brother went for a test and it came out negative for the coronavirus.

He then informed a lab that his engineer brother, who came from South Africa, had tested positive for the coronavirus, but was asymptomatic and was being given the regular course of medication, the official said.

"Currently, the engineer is kept in isolation and is being treated at a civic COVID-19 care centre in Dombivli. He is responding to the medication, but is depressed for which he is being counselled," the official said.

The man will be under observation till the report of his genome sequencing analysis is received, she said.

Meanwhile, a 39-year-old Chandigarh resident, who had returned from South Africa a few days ago, tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday and his sample will now be sent to Delhi for whole genome sequencing.

One of his family members and a domestic help have also been found infected with the infection.

The man had tested COVID-19 negative upon his arrival here on November 21.

He tested positive for coronavirus in a retest on Monday and being shifted to an institutional quarantine facility.

The B.1.1. 529 Covid variant or "Omicron", first detected in South Africa last week, was designated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a "variant of concern", the health body's top category for worrying coronavirus variants.

"In continuation of the earlier press statement, it is hereby informed that the 39-year-old South Africa returnee who was retested today has turned out to be positive for COVID-19. His one family member and a domestic help have also tested positive for COVID-19," the Chandigarh Administration said in a statement.

"However, two other family members are reported to be negative while the report of one family member is awaited," they added.

"The samples of the positive cases will be sent for whole genome sequencing to the National Centre for Disease Control, Delhi, to ascertain the variant/variant of concern, if any," it said.

Another statement issued by the administration earlier in the day had said he was home quarantined, dismissing as "rumours" anyone having tested positive for the new Covid variant "Omicron".

"A 39-year-old male resident of Sector 36 had returned from South Africa on November 21. He was RT-PCR negative on his arrival at the airport. He was quarantined at home on his arrival in Chandigarh," the statement had said.

"It is clarified that there is no such case in Chandigarh," it added.

Meanwhile, amid concerns over the new variant, the administration here stepped up surveillance of those returning from abroad.

The administration held a review meeting on Monday and the authorities concerned have been asked to ensure enforcement of the Covid protocols.

It was decided that in case of admission, rapid antigen and RT-PCR tests of patients be conducted at the Government Multi-Speciality Hospital in Sector 16, GMCH in Sector 32, sub-district hospitals in Sectors 22, 45 and Mani Majra.

In case of OPDs, all patients are to be subjected to the rapid antigen test.

All symptomatic patients will undergo the RT-PCR test also, an official statement said.

The PGIMER has been directed to increase testing for patients coming for admission and in OPDs .

"The GMCH in Sector 32 is in the state of readiness with sufficient number of oxygenated and ventilator beds. In case the occupancy at the GMCH-32 reaches to 80 per cent, the hospital at Sector 48 with 121 oxygenated beds will be opened," the statement said.

Special arrangements have been made in the Sector-45 civil hospital for children with sufficient number of ventilator beds, it said.

"The sub-district hospitals in Sector 22 and Mani Majra are also prepared to take initial care of some patients. Sufficient stock of testing kits are available with all the hospitals," the statement added.

Amid mounting global concerns over Omicron, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Saturday stressed the need to be proactive.

He had also directed officials to review plans on easing of international travel restrictions.



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