Centre asks states to be vigilant as Covid cases rise

New Delhi: The Centre on Monday asked states and union territories to maintain constant vigil amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases and the detection of the first case of the new JN.1 variant in the country.

In a letter to states and union territories, Union Health Secretary Sudhansh Pant underlined that “due to consistent and collaborative actions between the Centre and state governments, we have been able to sustain the (COVID-19) trajectory at sustainable low rates”.

“However, as the COVID-19 virus continues to circulate and its epidemiology behaviour gets settled with Indian weather conditions and circulation of other usual pathogens, it is important to keep the momentum going to effectively deal with the challenges in public health,” he said.

The JN.1 variant is said to be a mutation of the Omicron sub-variant B.A.2.86 or Pirola. It is believed to be more transmissible and may have the potential to evade some of the existing vaccines. As soon as the news of this new variant broke out, the central government issued an advisory to all states, including Kerala, to take necessary precautions and prevent its spread.

In a letter to the States and Union Territories, Union Health Secretary Shri Sudhansh Pant emphasised the importance of upholding a state of continual watch on the COVID situation in the nation, especially during the festive season.

The first step taken by the government was to impose strict travel restrictions, especially for those coming from countries where this new variant has been detected. This is a crucial move as it will help in identifying and isolating any potential cases of the JN.1 variant in the country.

Moreover, the government has also advised states to ramp up their surveillance and testing efforts. This includes monitoring and reporting District-wise Influenza-like Illness (ILI) and severe Acute Respiratory Illness (SARI) cases in all health facilities regularly including in the Integrated Health Information Platform (IHIP) portal, for detecting the early rising trend of cases.

In addition to these measures, the government has also emphasized the importance of adhering to COVID-appropriate behaviour such as wearing masks, maintaining physical distancing, and avoiding crowded places. These measures may seem basic but are crucial in preventing the spread of any variant of the virus.

Union Health Minister Dr Mansukh Mandaviya will be conducting a review meeting on 20th December with Health Ministers and additional Chief/Principal Secretaries (Health) of all States/UTs and relevant Central Ministries/Departments on the preparedness of health facilities and services given the recent upsurge in respiratory illness such as Influenza Like Illness/Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (ILI/SARI) (including by COVID-19).

In the recent advisory, the centre has also asked the stats to ensure the active participation of all public and private health facilities in the drill being conducted by the Union Health Ministry, to take stock of their preparedness and response capacities. All the states have also been asked to promote community awareness to seek their continued support in managing COVID-19, including adherence to respiratory hygiene.