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RT-PCR mandatory for travellers from China, New Zealand visiting India

RT-PCR mandatory for travellers from China, New Zealand visiting India

New Delhi: Amid the fears of the spread of new COVID-19 variants, the Union government has made RT-PCR tests mandatory for travellers arriving from seven more countries. Travellers from China, South Africa, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Botswana, Mauritius and Zimbabwe need to get an RT-PCR test done before departure and on arrival in India.

In a letter to all states and Union Territories (UTs), the Union government said considering reports of new mutations in SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), and rising number of Variants of Concern (VOCs) and Variants of Interest (Vols) globally, seven countries have been added in the list of countries, whose travellers will have to get another RT-PCR test done upon landing at Indian airports apart from the one they need to get before embarking on the flight.

In earlier guidelines issued in February, passengers from only the United Kingdom, Europe and the Middle East had to get the RT-PCR test done again upon landing at Indian airports. The Union has also asked states and UTs to ensure strict compliance to these guidelines so that the cases of Vols and VoCs in India from other countries may be prevented.

"The states/UTs must also strengthen their Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) activities being coordinated through the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG) network of laboratories, by sending a fixed percentage of samples of positive cases among international travellers for genome sequencing to the respective INSACOG Genome Sequencing Laboratories tagged with them," Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said in the letter.

Speaking at a press conference, NITI Aayog member (Health) VK Paul noted that although the risk of mutants will exist, tools of testing, tracking, vaccination, clinical preparedness and COVID-19 appropriate behaviour have to be strongly used.

"The impact of mutants, whether it is about the severity of disease or about transmissibility, is something that we understand systematically and INSACOG has a huge capacity. It has been strengthened over time and we will look after it. The screening of international travellers from a genetic sequencing point of view is one of the most critical protocols and pillars," he said.

ICMR Director General Balram Bhargava said a mutant found in Columbia is presently classified as a mutant of interest. "We are closely observing it and serious disease or rapid spread of it has not been seen, but with time we will be able to tell more about it," he said.

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