A day after the World Health Organization (WHO) classified a new strain of the novel coronavirus, B.1.1.529, as a “variant of concern” Omicron, the Mumbai civic body has introduced new restrictions for international passengers arriving in the city and sounded “extreme vigilance” in the regard.
According to the latest guidelines issued by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), international passengers travelling from or transiting through South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana — the three countries where Omicron has been detected – will have to undergo mandatory RT-PCR tests at the Mumbai Airport. If a traveller tests positive for Covid-19, they will be sent to institutional quarantine and the samples will be sent for genome sequencing. Until recently, a passenger testing positive was sent to home quarantine.
All passengers arriving at the Mumbai airport will have to get their passport scrutinised at the immigration counter for travel history of the last two weeks.
The civic body further said that detailed instructions regarding testing and quarantine rules would be issued as per the instructions received from the Central and State governments regarding the new variant. “They will be home isolated and if found Covid positive, sample will be sent for genome sequencing to check for the new variant,” an official said.
RT-PCR tests are already mandatory for passengers arriving at Mumbai airport from or transiting through South Africa and Botswana along with the United Kingdom (UK), Europe, the Middle East, Brazil, Bangladesh, China, Mauritius, New Zealand and Zimbabwe.
On Saturday, Municipal Commissioner IS Chahal chaired a meeting with Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport administration, Mumbai Police, Covid-19 task force, additional municipal commissioner, health and ward officials on Omicron and precautions that need to be taken.
“There are no direct flights to Mumbai from South African countries where the new virus strain has been detected, which is a matter of consolation. But we cannot be reckless about the situation. Incoming international travellers are required to provide a self-declaration letter stating their travel information for the last fortnight. Their passports should be scrutinised by the airport authorities,” said Chahal in the meeting.
Chahal further instructed the officials to review and re-inspect all the Jumbo Covid Centres set up by BMC to ensure they are functioning properly. He asked officials to review ward war rooms, medical and other necessary manpower, medicine stock, production and storage of medical oxygen, electrical and firefighting system, and ensure availability of ambulances.
He instructed the police administration to take stern action against those found without masks in public places. “Emphasis should be placed on giving access to public places only to citizens who have received both doses of the vaccine,” said Chahal. The commissioner also said that strict action should be taken against employees working in various establishments such as shops, malls and movie theatres if they have not been vaccinated.
Twenty four ward officers have been instructed to ensure that public toilets are disinfected at least five times a day. All private hospitals have also been instructed to start preparing again for the treatment of Covid-19 patients.
The WHO described the strain, which was first announced by scientists in South Africa, as highly transmissible, prompting several countries, including India, to impose restrictions on travel from affected regions. Omicron could potentially be more dangerous than the Delta Variant and has so far been reported in South Africa, Hong Kong, Botswana, Israel and Belgium.