Tracking variants: Centre asks states to send all samples from Covid hotspots

TIGHTENING ITS genome sequencing measures to ensure early detection of new variants, including Omicron, the Union Health Ministry has asked states to send “100 per cent samples” from Covid hotspots, starting with two recent clusters in Karnataka’s Dharwad and Maharashtra’s Thane, The Indian Express has learnt.

On Tuesday, during a high-level review meeting chaired by Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, the states were advised to send “all positive samples” for genome sequencing to designated INSACOG labs “in a prompt manner”. Earlier, only about five per cent of samples from positive cases detected by RT-PCR tests were sent for genome sequencing.

To begin with, top Government sources told The Indian Express, the Centre has told authorities to send all samples from the cluster of cases reported from a medical college in Dharwad and an old-age home at Bhiwandi in Thane.

“We have told the states that whenever you have emerging hotspots and clusters of new cases, you should get 100 per cent of the genome sequenced. It is being done in Dharwad, where they had more than 240 cases in one institution, and in Bhiwandi, where 60 cases were detected in an old age home. We have told the states that wherever you have such a number, there should be mandatory genome sequencing,” sources said.

On Tuesday, the Centre told states to ensure “physical visits” to the homes of passengers from “at-risk” countries to monitor home isolation. “The status of those who are negative after the retest on the eighth day” will also be “physically monitored by the state administration”, it said. The states have been told that international passengers from “at-risk” countries should be advised to wait at airports till the report comes and “not book connecting flights”.

During the meeting, ICMR D-G Dr Balram Bhargava said Omicron does not escape RT-PCR and Rapid Antigen tests. The Centre conveyed that the flagship “Har Ghar Dastak” campaign has been extended till December 31.

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