Rule leaves loopholes for spread of Omicron

Health officials rue travellers from ‘not at risk’ countries are allowed to leave airport before test results are received

Published: 18th December 2021 09:10 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th December 2021 09:10 AM   |  A+A-

Residents of Paramount Colony in Hyderabad get themselves vaccinated on Friday as fears spike of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 spreading

Residents of Paramount Colony in Hyderabad get themselves vaccinated on Friday as fears spike of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 spreading. (Photo | Vinay Madapu)

Express News Service

HYDERABAD: The bizarre rule that allows travellers from ‘not at risk’ countries to leave the airport even before their RT PCR reports are received has landed the State Health Department in a spot yet again. After the genome sequencing test of a Sudanese national confirmed Omicron in the early hours of Friday, the authorities could not trace him till 7 pm as he was allowed to leave the airport after giving his sample since he had arrived from a ‘not at risk country’.

The passenger, who flew down from Sudan for medical treatment, proved to be elusive throughout the day on Friday as he had given an incorrect contact number and an incomplete address. The only clue the Health Department officials had was that his place of stay was Paramount Colony where the other Omicron positive patients had also stayed.They finally zeroed in on the Sudanese national while he was taking rest in a guest house in Film Nagar. 

When his contact number turned out to be incorrect, the health officials panicked, as there was a huge risk of Omicron spreading to others. After frantic efforts, they took the help of the Banjara Hills police in the afternoon and finally traced him, but not before visiting a number of hospitals, medical tourism coordinators and others to know his location.

“In both the cases, the visitors from Kenya and Sudan had given incomplete addresses. Paramount Colony has four gates and over 100 homes making it very difficult to trace the passengers. The airport staff also do not relay information on positive cases to us immediately after they test positive for Covid-19. By the time Omicron is confirmed, it’s always too late,” a health official said on condition of anonymity.

With no foolproof mechanism in place to hold back the tested individuals in the airport until results come in, the burden of tracing falls on the State health officials and delays occur due to incorrect addresses. This increases the risk of the virus spreading.  

“The Central government’s guidelines state that samples should be taken from 2 percent of passengers who leave the airport immediately thereafter. From the State’s side, it’s not possible to hold them at the airport as we are not empowered to do so,” said Dr GS Rao, Director of Public Health. He justified the delays in tracing the affected by stating that they were only following protocol.

“The Telangana State Health Secretary has reached out to the Union Health Secretary to convey that the guidelines for passengers arriving from ‘not at risk’ countries need to change,” Dr Rao said.


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