The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) on Tuesday issued a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for epidemiological surveillance as well as response in the context of the variant of Sars-CoV-2 detected in the United Kingdom (UK).
As per the SOP, all passengers travelling from or transiting through airports in the UK and disembarking in India would be subjected to RT-PCR test on arrival. In case of a positive sample, it is recommended that spike gene-based RT-PCR test should also be performed by an appropriate laboratory.
“Passengers testing positive shall be isolated in an institutional isolation facility in a separate (isolation) unit coordinated by the respective state health authorities. They would earmark specific facilities for such isolation and treatment. Necessary action to send the samples to National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune or any other appropriate lab for genomic sequencing will be initiated at the facility level,” reads the SOP.
If the report of the sequencing is consistent with the current SARS-CoV-2 virus genome circulating in the country, the ongoing treatment protocol including home isolation/treatment at facility level as per case severity may be followed.
And if the genomic sequencing indicates the presence of new variant of SARS-CoV-2 then the patient will continue to remain in a separate isolation unit. While necessary treatment as per the existing protocol will be given, the patient shall be tested on 14th day, after having tested positive in the initial test. In case the sample is found positive on 14th day, further sample may be taken until his two consecutive samples taken 24 hours apart test negative.
Those who are found negative on testing with RT-PCR at the airport would be advised quarantine at home.
The concerned airlines have been directed to ensure that prior to check-in, the traveller is explained about this SOP. In-flight announcements must also be made explaining the relevant information to the passengers. Relevant information in this regard shall be prominently displayed in arrival area and waiting area of the airports.
The ministry further stated that adequate arrangements for passengers waiting for their RT-PCR test results duly following effective isolation may also be made at the airports in conjunction with the airport authorities.
Moreover, the list of travellers (travelling between December 21-23) who are found RT-PCR negative at airport testing shall be shared with the respective states by the central unit of IDSP and they shall be advised for quarantine at home and tested as per ICMR guidelines.
Those international travellers from UK who arrived in India from November 25 to December 8, which is the first and second week from November 25, will be contacted by district surveillance officers and advised to self-monitor their health. If anyone amongst them develops symptoms, they will be tested by RT-PCR.
“If tested positive, genetic sequencing will be done. If the results are consistent with current circulating SARS-CoV2, the ongoing treatment protocol including home isolation/treatment at facility level, as per case severity, may be followed. If the results of genomic sequencing are consistent with the new variant, then these passengers will continue to remain in a separate isolation unit,” the ministry said.
The list of international travellers who arrived in India, as described in the scope above, between December 9 and December 23 (3rd and 4th week) will be shared with respective state/district surveillance officers for daily follow-up till 14 days after their arrival in India.
All the community contacts (without any exception) of those travellers who have tested positive would be subjected to institutional quarantine in separate quarantine centres and would be tested between fifth and tenth days as per current ICMR guidelines using RT-PCR. The same procedure for COVID-19 and new COVID-19 variant will follow as stated above.
The information regarding any passenger covered within the scope of this SOP, who travels to another state will be immediately notified to the concerned state health authority.
The SOP states that if any passenger is not traceable initially or during any duration while being followed up, he or she should be immediately notified to central surveillance unit of IDSP by the district surveillance officer.
The Union Health Ministry has said that this variant is estimated by European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) to be more transmissible and affecting younger population. “This variant is defined by a set of 17 changes or mutations. One of the most significant…changes…may result in the virus becoming more infectious and spreading more easily between people,” the ministry stated.