Amid Omicron scare, Centre tells poll-bound states to speed up Covid vaccination
The Government of India on Thursday advised poll-bound states to ramp up Covid vaccination exponentially to protect the vulnerable population given the steady rise in cases of the Omicron variant of Coronavirus in India. In February – March, the largest State Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa, and Manipur Assembly elections are scheduled. The Centre advised the States, pockets with low vaccination coverage and those with low COVID-19 exposure may be more vulnerable to the new Omicron variant and urged the States to accord special attention to ramp up inoculation in these pockets.
According to a statement from the Union Health Ministry, States and Union Territories have been advised to be vigilant and monitor case positivity, doubling rate, and the cluster of new cases and consider imposing curbs and restrictions at the local level ahead of Christmas and New Year. Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, reviewing the public health preparedness of states for fighting COVID-19 and the Omicron variant along with the progress of vaccination virtually, advised States to not let their guard down and maintain their preparedness.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the evening convened a high-level review meeting on the COVID-19 situation in the country, amid rising concerns over the spread of the Omicron variant of Coronavirus. Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said over 60 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. “Accomplishing more new feats! Congratulations India. Aided by public participation & dedicated efforts of our health workers, over 60 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated now,” he said in a tweet. Besides, around 89 percent of India’s adults have been administered the first dose. 70,17,671 vaccine doses were administered in the last 24 hours.
Union Health Secretary reiterated that local containment measures are to be put in place when either the test positivity increases beyond 10 percent or occupancy of oxygenated beds increases beyond 40 percent, the statement said. “However, based on the local situation and population characteristics such as density, and keeping in mind the higher transmissibility of Omicron, states, and UTs can undertake containment measures and impose restrictions even before these thresholds are reached,” said Bhushan in the advisory to states. Any restriction must be enforced for a minimum of 14 days, he added.
As symptoms of infection caused by the Omicron variant closely mimic common cold with a higher rate of transmissibility and doubling time, a syndromic approach for Covid containment can be employed, the Health Secretary said. Regarding vaccinations, the states were advised to ensure 100 percent coverage of left out first and second dose eligible beneficiaries in an accelerated manner and give special focus to those districts where the first and second dose coverage is less than the national average. States going in for elections in the next few months need to exponentially ramp up vaccination, especially in the low coverage districts to protect the vulnerable population, Bhushan stressed.
On containment strategies, states were advised to impose night curfews, ensure strict regulation of large gatherings and promptly notify ‘containment zones’, ‘buffer Zones’ if new clusters of Covid cases emerge. They were asked to send all samples from clusters to INSACOG Labs for genome sequencing without delay.
The states were also asked to ensure door-to-door case search in the containment areas, test all SARI/ ILI and vulnerable/ co-morbid people and ensure the right proportion of RT-PCR: RAT (at least 60:40) tests in total tests being conducted daily, the statement said. This ratio can be ramped up to 70:30. The Centre asked states to ensure contact tracing of all Covid positive persons and their timely testing, especially in clusters, and utilize the access to ‘AIR SUVIDHA‘ portal to monitor international passengers, the statement said. About clinical management, the states were informed that the existing National Clinical Management Protocol remains unchanged for Omicron.
As many states have decommissioned Covid facilities, they are required to keep an action plan ready for making these operational along with adequate availability of doctors and ambulance on call in case there is a rise in COVID cases, the Union Health Secretary highlighted in the meeting. The states were advised to ensure advance engagement and information so that there is no misinformation or panic.
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