Covid BF.7: New guidelines for air travel. Testing restarts at airports in India

International travellers arriving from China and other countries will now be subjected to random sample testing for the coronavirus at airports because the country is experiencing a significant increase in COVID cases. This action was taken in response to the recent rise in COVID cases in several regions of the world and after evaluating the COVID-19 situation in India.

According to the most recent press sources, three instances of Omicron subvariant BF.7 have been found in India thus far. This strain is reportedly to blame for China’s current COVID case increase. In response to concerns that the wave of infections in China would give rise to new mutations, India took action to examine India’s COVID preparation. It encouraged people to use masks in crowded locations to prevent the virus’s spread.

COVID BF.7: Latest guidelines for travellers coming into India

  1. Air Suvidha has returned. Flyers arriving from these nations are now required to fill out the form to certify their health status.
  1. Every symptomatic person will be segregated and sent to a specific medical institution.
  1. All overseas arrivals from China, South Korea, Japan, and Thailand will now require RT-PCR testing. Those discovered to be symptomatic or COVID-19 positive shall be isolated.
  1. Mandatory thermal screening is now required of all travellers entering India.
  1. Additionally, 2% of all travellers on each international flight arriving will have a COVID-19 test when they arrive. The choice of these passengers will be made at random. Once the sample has been provided, passengers can go without having to wait for the test results.

While Singapore has increased protection for staff members who are interacting with arrivals, no other country has yet taken any significant precautions for travellers. All staff members will don additional personal protection equipment, such as N95 masks and face shields, even those operating at the airport’s taxi stands. The New Year celebrations will proceed as scheduled, and the issue is under control, according to Thailand’s health officials.

What is known so far about COVID in China?

China is considering a potential COVID-19 revival. Since China’s zero-COVID limits were loosened last month, a surge has been observed.

  • Omicron subvariant BF is the most prevalent viral strain in China (short for BA. The strain has been going around for a year and is currently the most infectious and highly transmissible type.
  • However, researchers point out that there isn’t any conclusive evidence to claim that it’s the reason for the virus’s quick spread. In fact, there is a clear uptick in the number of cases in nations like Brazil, South Korea, Japan, and the United States.
  • Even while the number has significantly decreased lately, forecasts indicate that millions of deaths will occur in the coming months as schools resume online learning and hospitals run out of medication.
  • 2,700 illnesses and five fatalities were recorded by China on December 19. Compared to November, when 40,000 instances were reported, this number is much lower. Notable is the fact that China loosened the regulations for RT-PCR tests at the beginning of December. Unlike before, people today do not require an RT-PCR test to enter any public space. The passing of patients who already had illnesses is not counted as a COVID-related death either.

These new regulations in India come at a time when COVID cases are on the rise in China, Brazil, Japan, the US, and Korea. As of Wednesday night, India had four cases of the Omicron subvariant BF.7. Of these, two instances from Gujarat and one from Odisha have been reported. The most recent instance occurred in Vadodara when a visitor from the US tested positive for the coronavirus subtype BF.7. 

Authorities emphasise that there is no reason for alarm and that India’s COVID numbers are at their lowest point since the pandemic started and have been falling steadily for the past five months. Although it is not yet required, the Indian government has recommended citizens cover up in public places.

Protocols to be followed before arrival, during flight

  • Preferably, all travellers should be completely immunised in accordance with their country’s primary immunisation schedule against COVID-19.
  • There must be an announcement made throughout flights/travel and at all points of entry regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the precautions that should be taken (preferably the use of masks and subsequent physical separation).
  • Any traveller exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms must be separated in accordance with the established procedure, which calls for the donning of a mask, isolation and segregation from other passengers throughout the flight or transit, and eventual transfer to an isolation facility for further care.

Protocols to be followed on arrival

  • De-boarding should be performed while maintaining a physical distance.
  • The health officials stationed at the entry gate shall conduct thermal screening on each passenger.
  • Passengers who exhibit symptoms during screening must be immediately segregated and transported to a certified medical facility in accordance with health protocol (as above).
  • Random post-arrival testing will be conducted on a subset (2% of the total flight passengers) when they arrive at the airport.
  • Each flight’s concerned carriers will identify these passengers (preferably from different countries). Following the submission of the samples, they will be permitted to depart the airport.
  • Samples from these travellers should be referred to the INSACOG laboratory network for further genetic testing if their tests are positive.
  • They must get the prescribed standard protocol for treatment and isolation.
  • All travellers should self-monitor their health after arrival and should go to the closest medical institution or call the national hotline number (1075) or state helpline number if they have any symptoms that could be serious.
  • Post-arrival random testing is not required for kids younger than 12 years old. On the other hand, if COVID-19 symptoms are discovered upon arrival or during the self-monitoring period, they must submit to testing and receive the prescribed treatment.

Omicron sub-variant BF.7 is the main driver of the latest Covid-19 wave that has engulfed China. Due in large part to the new viral type and the relaxation of the zero-covid policy, the neighbouring country is experiencing an alarming increase in new infections, hospitalisations, and fatalities. According to experts, the new strain may infect 10% or more of the global population and at least more than half of the population of China. 

India is simultaneously on high alert, with the Center issuing fresh directives to health organisations to encourage Covid proper behaviour and doing genome sequencing to identify the sub-variant of the virus. According to former AIIMS Director Randeep Guleria, BF.7 may be more contagious, but there are some reasons why India’s condition may be better than China’s.

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