A 32-year-old resident of Dombivli in Mumbai, who arrived from South Africa via Delhi on November 24, tested positive upon arrival, though health officials are yet to ascertain if he is infected with the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
“The passenger travelled from Cape Town to Delhi via Dubai. He gave a sample in Delhi and was allowed to board the connecting flight to Mumbai. On arrival in Mumbai, he was found to be positive. He is asymptomatic and had home quarantined himself. Later, the corporation quarantined him in an institution,” said Pratibha Panpatil, Chief Medical Officer of the Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Corporation (KDMC).
KDMC health officials said they have alerted the airport authorities and efforts are on to locate the man’s co-passengers.
Dr Pradeep Vyas, Additional Chief Secretary (Health) said, “We have sent his samples for genome sequencing to find out if he is carrying the Omicron varint.”
According to the Centre’s November 11 guidelines for international passengers, samples for RT-PCR tests are to be submitted on landing, after which passengers are allowed to leave the airport. Passengers are to follow home quarantine for seven days, with a mandatory retest on the eight day.
Amid rising worries over the Omicron variant, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has begun contacting 466 passengers who arrived in the city over the last 15 days from the “countries of concern”, including South Africa, and will take swab samples from them for RT-PCR tests. Officials said that 97 of the 466 passengers who arrived in Mumbai are residents of the city. The civic body is individually contacting all passengers for their health updates.
“The passengers who live in Mumbai don’t have any symptoms. All are quarantined at home. We will run RT-PCR tests on them on Monday,” said BMC Additional Commissioner Suresh Kakani.
The Indian Express has learnt that the state government is likely to make seven-day institutional quarantine mandatory for passengers flying into the city from — or transiting through — countries of concern. For domestic passengers, the government is likely to bring back the rule on mandatorily carrying a negative RT-PCR test for entering the state, sources said.
These measures were discussed at a Covid-19 review meeting that Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray held with Health Minister Rajesh Tope, senior government officials, state Covid task force members, divisional commissioners and district collectors.
Thackeray instructed the officials to conduct tests of international and domestic passengers arriving at airports, and asked them to take necessary steps without waiting for the Centre’s instructions, according to a statement from the Chief Minister’s Office.
He asked for monitoring on “war footing” of international passengers who land elsewhere in the country and travel to Maharashtra by domestic airlines, roads and railways.
Institutional quarantine for passengers flying from or transiting through South Africa and other southern African countries was discussed. “The suggestion was to have the seven-day mandatory institutional quarantine for these passengers,” said an official from the government.
On Saturday, the BMC sent a proposal to the state government for making a 14-day institutional quarantine mandatory for passengers flying from or transiting through South Africa.
The state government is likely to issue an order about these restrictions in the next one or two days, sources said.
“The challenge of the Omicron variant is worrisome. Care should be taken to ensure that the risk of infection (new variant) does not increase under any circumstances. Once the infection is increased, an option like lockdown is not affordable. So, to avoid it, restrictions such as wearing a mask regularly, avoiding unnecessary crowding, and keeping a safe distance must be followed,” the Chief Minister said, adding that strict action would be taken against violation.
Thackeray asked officials to check availability of oxygen and medicines and carry out fire audits of hospitals. He also emphasized that people should take both doses of the vaccine.
In Chandrapur, Palghar, Nashik, Ahmednagar, Gadchiroli, Jalna, Buldhana, Solapur districts and others that have vaccination coverage below 30%, Thackeray asked district officials to ramp up inoculation.
On Monday, the CM is scheduled to chair a state cabinet meeting. Sources said that apart from the decision related to caste validity of backward class candidates in local bodies polls, the cabinet is likely to discuss the issue of the new Covid variant and vaccination.
Additional Chief Secretary (Health) Dr Pradeep Vyas said the government would ramp up the ‘Test-Track-Treat-Vaccine’ principle. He said daily testing would be increased to over 11 lakh daily from the daily state-wide average of 6.5 lakh tests at present.
Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar earlier announced that passengers arriving at the city airport from South Africa would be quarantined and genome sequencing of passengers would be done if they are found Covid-19 positive.
Now, BMC, extending the testing protocols, has decided to run genome sequencing on all Covid-19 positive international passengers irrespective of their country.
“Due to few active Covid-19 cases, we aren’t getting enough samples to run the genome sequencing, so we have decided to conduct the test on all COVID positive international passengers,” said Kakani.
Hospitals have kept beds on standby to treat Covid-19 patients in case of any surge. At present, out of the 17,380 beds available in dedicated Covid health facilities, only 1,100 are occupied.
To tackle patients in case of a possible third wave, the state has increased its oxygen production capacity to 2,500MT from 1,200MT. N Ramaswami, Commissioner, National Health Mission, said the state has plans to reach 3,838MT in the next two months.
“District-wise, we have installed 513 pressure swing adsorption (PSA) plants. Over 50% of the installation work has been completed, and we are working on the others,” he said.
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