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Bihar Image Credit: Gulf News archives

Patna: Authorities in Bihar have launched an extensive search to trace 281 people who recently returned from countries affected by the new coronavirus strain Omicron, described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a “variant of concern”.

The health department launched the search soon after getting a list of foreign visitors from the Indian government. Health officials said the district civil surgeons have been entrusted with the responsibility of tracing these people and conducting their RT-PCR tests.

“We have ordered mandatory RT-PCR tests for all those returning from foreign countries. At the same time, all samples which test positive for COVID-19 would be promptly sent for genome sequencing to find out the virus’ variants,” state health society’s executive director Sanjay Kumar Singh told the media on Sunday. He said the authorities have already started action in this regard in the light of the letter sent by the federal health ministry.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar on Sunday asked the health department officials to keep a close watch on the people returning from foreign countries and make them undergo testing.

Adequate stock of medicines

He also directed the health department to maintain adequate stock of medicines and complete arrangements for health facilities in view of the new strain of COVID-19. He passed these instructions while holding a review meeting of the health services in the state.

“Only vaccination is the effective measure to fight the deadly virus. The people shouldn’t ignore it,” the chief minister said, urging the people to take the second dose without any further delay. A total of 80 million people have taken vaccines in Bihar till Sunday.

According to reports, of the total people returning from foreign tours, a maximum of 71 belong to Patna, the capital of Bihar state, followed by 56 from Gopalganj, 54 from Siwan, 10 each from Muzaffarpur and Madhubani and remaining from 25 other districts. In a curious development, a senior health official posted in the malaria office refused to undergo COVID-19 test when a health team rushed to her home, reports said.

The state health department, however, is not sure if it will be able to trace all the people. According to health authorities, it is not necessary that all the people who got their passports delivered to their Bihar address might be currently staying in the state. There is also the possibility of such people landing at airports outside Bihar, they explained. “Yet we have launched searches for the returnees,” said a health department official.

Health experts have sought a ban on international flights, citing other countries that have already initiated this step.

“Omicron has already spread to different countries in a very short span of time. It may even escape vaccine immunity and if it infects the people of our state, it will exert enormous pressure on our health infrastructure. So, we appeal to the government to impose a ban on international flights for the next two-three months,” a leading health expert and paediatrician Dr Arun Shah told the media.

Nodal officer for COVID-19 at Patna’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Dr Sanjeev Kumar asked the people to be alert and always wear masks to protect themselves in case of any fresh outbreak of infection. “The people have become carefree with the decline in rate of COVID-19 cases but we have to continue our fight against the disease by wearing facemasks and maintaining social distancing,” said another health expert Dr Satish Kumar.