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Covid test must for arrivals from China, 4 more countries as global cases rise

Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya. (PTI)

The government has also asked states to conduct a mock drill on Tuesday to ensure readiness of health facilities including medical oxygen generation plants.

This comes a day after the Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya held a meeting with state ministers to discuss the current Covid-19 situation and ensure that the country is ready to check the spread of the virus as Covid cases continue to surge worldwide.

"RT-PCR test to be mandatory for international arrivals from China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand. On arrival, if any passenger from these countries is found symptomatic or tests positive for Covid19, then he/she will be put under quarantine," Mandaviya was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.

From Saturday, random Covid testing of international passengers started at airports including those in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Pune, Indore and Goa under new guidelines that require testing of 2% of international arrivals in each flight.

The government has told states and union territories that oxygen control rooms should be reinvigorated for prompt resolutions of oxygen-related issues and challenges.

Reintroducing more precautionary measures, the Union Health Minister said that passengers arriving in India from China and four other countries if found COVID-19 positive or with fever will be quarantined.

"In view of the COVID-19 pandemic situation, passengers from China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Bangkok (Thailand) are required to upload their RT-PCR reports in advance (for travel to India).

"After landing in India, they will undergo thermal screening and we have issued an order for them to be quarantined if found positive or with fever on their arrival in the country," Mandaviya said while reporters in Gandhinagar, Gujarat.

The Union health minister said that filling up the 'Air Suvidha' form to declare their health status will be made mandatory for passengers coming from these countries.

The Air Suvidha portal was launched in August 2020 through which international passengers had to submit details of their journey, Covid vaccination and testing status but it was discontinued in November this year. It is currently required from all travellers who wish to enter India.

With the reduction in cases and more widespread vaccination, mandatory RT-PCR tests were also discontinued for international passengers by November.

The central government was taking steps against COVID-19 as cases are rising in places like South Korea, Hong Kong, Europe, America and Brazil, Mandaviya said.

"Yesterday, a COVID-19 advisory was issued. Through newspaper advertisements, people are being made aware. In Parliament, I made a statement in which I urged people to mandatorily use masks, maintain social distancing and follow COVID-appropriate behaviour so that in future, India can be saved from the new BF.7 variant of the virus," he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had cautioned against complacency, called for a strict vigil and directed that the ongoing surveillance measures, especially at international airports, be strengthened.

The Union health ministry has asked states and Union Territories to ensure Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) oxygen-generating plants are kept fully functional and regular mock drills are conducted to check them.

In a letter to all states and UTs, Health Ministry Additional Secretary Manohar Agnani said the operationalisation and maintenance of these medical infrastructure are of utmost importance to meet any eventuality even though the number of cases in the country is low now.

He said medical oxygen is an important resource in all clinical settings, particularly during the pandemic and a reliable oxygen supply is critical for saving lives.

In the letter, the official requested additional chief secretary/principal secretary, secretary (Health) of all states and UTs to direct departments concerned to ensure that PSA plants are kept fully functional and regular mock drills are conducted to check them.

"The availability of Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) in the health facilities and an uninterrupted supply chain for their refilling should be ensured. Adequate Inventory of Oxygen Cylinders along with backup stocks and robust refilling system is maintained," the letter said.

States have also been urged to ensure the availability of functional life support equipment such as ventilators, BiPAP and SpO2 systems along with their consumables.

During the COVID pandemic, the Centre supported States/UTs by installing and commissioning PSA plants, oxygen concentrators, cylinders, and other oxygen-related infrastructure to ensure the availability of medical oxygen in a cost-effective and reliable manner in public health facilities across the country, the letter said.

Mandaviya also posted a tweet saying, "Sample testing of international passengers, including those from China, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Japan, South Korea, has been initiated at the Delhi International Airport. All necessary steps are being taken in view of the evolving coronavirus situation."

A passenger who arrived on an IndiGo flight at Chennai airport from Doha on Saturday said the Covid testing procedure was smooth at the airport.

Chennai airport tweeted a video clip of the passenger sharing his experience and said the passenger is "happy with the smooth testing procedures in place".

There are 29 international airports in the country and the number of international passengers who arrived on December 23 stood at 87,966, according to data from the civil aviation ministry.

"We are Ready! Your safety is our priority. 2% random sampling for international arriving passengers will commence today from 10 AM at T3, at no cost to the passengers," Delhi airport said in a tweet in the morning.

It also urged everyone to cooperate with the on-ground staff during the testing procedures.

According to the guidelines, after submitting the samples, the international passengers concerned can leave the airport.

Thermal screening will be done for all passengers at the point of entry and those found to be symptomatic will be immediately isolated.

The country has not reported any fresh spurt in infection.

There were 201 new coronavirus infections, raising the tally to 4.46 crore, while the active cases increased to 3,397, the Union Health Ministry said on Saturday.

The death toll stands at 5,30,691 with one fatality reconciled by Kerala, the data updated at 8 am by the ministry stated.

The daily positivity was recorded at 0.15 per cent and the weekly positivity at 0.14 per cent.

A total of 90.97 crore tests have been conducted so far, with 1,36,315 tests being conducted in the last 24 hours, the ministry said.

The active cases comprise 0.01 per cent of the total infections. The national COVID-19 recovery rate has increased to 98.80 per cent, it said.

An increase of 17 cases has been recorded in the active COVID-19 case count in 24 hours, the ministry said.

The country has so far recorded at 4.46 crore ( 4,46,76,879) cases.

As per the ministry's website, around 220.04 crore doses of Covid vaccine have been administered in the country so far under the nationwide COVID-19 inoculation programme.

With agency inputs

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