As a precautionary measure in the wake of the outbreak of an infection in China because of a new strain of virus, the Union Health Ministry has instructed screening of travellers from the neighbouring country at Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata airports using thermal scanners.
The government has also issued a travel advisory asking citizens travelling to and from China to follow certain precautionary measures. It stated that as on January 11, as many as 41 confirmed cases of the infection by a novel coronavirus have been reported in China, and one person has died.
The situation is being monitored in consultation with WHO, Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan said, adding that keeping in view the limited human-to-human transmission of the virus, infection risk at the global level is perceived to be low.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan took stock of public health preparedness in the country on Friday.
“However, as a matter of precaution, the Ministry of Health has instructed screening of international travellers from China at designated airports namely, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata through thermal scanners. In coordination with the Ministry of Civil Aviation, in-flight announcements are also being made,” a health ministry statement said.
The ministry has also issued necessary directions to all those concerned on laboratory diagnosis, surveillance, infection prevention and control and risk communication. Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme has been geared up for community surveillance and contact tracing.
The National Institute Of Virology, Pune, and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Laboratory are coordinating testing of samples for the novel coronavirus (nCoV) in the country.
Hospital preparedness with regard to management and infection prevention control facilities has been also reviewed during high-level meetings. Advisories and infection prevention and control guidelines have been shared with the states, the statement said.
“According to WHO, the situation is still evolving and preliminary investigations suggest link to the sea-food market. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, which cause illnesses to people and also circulate in animals including camels, cats and bats. In rare cases, animal coronaviruses can also evolve and infect people.
“The Government of India is regularly reviewing the public health preparedness in the country since the news broke,” a health ministry statement said.
As directed by the Health Ministry, meetings of a joint monitoring group were convened under the chairmanship of the Director-General of health services on January 8 and 15 with representations from various stakeholders and WHO.
“The public health preparedness is being reviewed on day-to-day basis and the core capacities to timely detect and manage the importation of the nCoV into the country are being strengthened further,” the Union health secretary said.
State governments have also been advised on the necessary precaution to be taken on the issue. The health ministry is also in touch with the Ministry of External Affairs, and the immigration officers at the designated airports have been sensitised, the health ministry statement said.
The advisory issued by the government stated that even though the mode of transmission of the novel coronavirus is unclear as of now, those visiting China are advised to avoid travel to farms, live animal markets or where animals are slaughtered, and refrain consuming “raw or undercooked meat”.
The WHO on Thursday stated that not enough is known about the novel coronavirus to draw definitive conclusions about how it is transmitted, clinical features of the disease, or the extent to which it has spread.
“The source also remains unknown,” it said while urging all countries to be prepared to tackle the spread of the virus. “WHO encourages all countries to continue preparedness activities on the novel coronavirus,” the global health body had tweeted.