India fights new variants of COVID-19, surge in numbers
While Australia is happily advancing its roll out of vaccination drive to fight COVID-19 with Pfizer and Astro-Zeneca vaccines considered to be carrying 90% effi9cacy in results, a worrying news has emerged in India with new strains or variants of the virus emerging. While many Indian Australians are still stuck on either side and were hoping vaccination will bring things back to or close to normalcy, the news has the potential of practically killing all possibilities of normalization of Australia India flights any time soon.
All India Institute Of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) director Dr Randeep Guleria has flagged concerns over the “new Indian strains” of COVID-19, saying it could be more “infectious and dangerous“.
India rolled out its vaccination program in January 2021 with a target of 33 million to be inoculated by June 30. But in recent days, it has witnessed a second surge of the virus in Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.
What is most worrying according to Dr Guleria is the fact that the new Indian strains of COVID-19 found in Maharashtra can even “cause re-infections in those who have developed antibodies” against the infection.
That would mean – people who have been vaccinated may not be as safe.
Advocating at least 80% inoculation to assume some sort of social immunity, Dr Guleria exhorted more and more peope to get vaccinated. And against the new variant of COVID-19, the efficacy of the vaccine may not be as high.
According to the Dr Guleria, people need to go back to aggressive measures of testing, contact tracing and isolating the infected for strict quarantine periods. For scientists, Dr Guleria said they need to be constantly vigilant maintaining constant surveillance in order to modify the vaccines developed.
Clearly with current vaccines, our fight against the virus is far from won.
New guidelines for International Travel to India
The Indian Hhealth ministry has issued new guidelines for international arrival amid the spread of mutant variants of Covid-19 and they will come into effect from Monday. The rules came into effect from 11:59pm Monday, February 22 and will be in force till further orders.
“There is increasing evidence that the mutant variants of SARS-CoV-2 are in circulation in many countries and these mutant variants are driving the pandemic in their country of origin. So far, the three SARS-CoV-2 variants in circulation viz-a-viz (i) UK variant (ii) South Africa variant and (iii) Brazil variant, have been detected in 86, 44 and 15 countries, respectively,” the Health ministry said in its updated guidelines.
The New guidelines for international arrivals:
- All international travellers will have to submit a self-declaration form (SDF) for Covid on the online Air Suvidha portal before their scheduled travel.
- Travellers will also have to upload a negative Covid-19 RT-PCR report on the online portal of New Delhi airport, www.newdelhiairport.in, with a declaration form stating the authenticity of the report.
- The test must be conducted 72 hours prior to the journey.
- Only asymptomatic travellers will be allowed to board after the thermal screening.
- These rules shall also apply to international travellers arriving through seaports/land ports but online registration policy cannot be availed by them.
- International travellers arriving from/transiting through the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa (during the past 14 days) will have to be segregated by the airline in-flight.
- Self-paid confirmatory molecular tests on arrival will be mandatory for all travellers arriving from/transiting through flights originating in the United Kingdom, Europe or the Middle East.
- Such travellers will give their samples to the designated area before exiting the airport. If the test report is negative, they will be advised to self-monitor their health for 14 days. If the test report is positive, they will undergo treatment as per standard health protocol.
Sadly, it does not augur well for Australia India flights resuming any time soon.
Australia has already announced resumption of flights in “travel bubble” modes and will constantly monitor where it will be safe to allow relaxation of travel rules.
After Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the phone last week and was asked about easing off international travel restrictions, he had said:
“I think it is a reasonable expectation that as time goes on, as the vaccination rolls out across the world and here in Australia, you should rightly expect that things will change in how we manage the virus”.
Clearly, if Australia had to relax any restrictions on international travel between India and Australia, as Mr Morrison said, Australia will closely examine how the virus is managed in India.
Thus Australia India flights resuming any time soon seems to be a distant possibility and a lot will depend on what India does in its fight to take control of the pandemic.