Hyderabad: Telangana health minister T. Harish Rao along with state health officials reviewed the preparations and surveillance measures for Omicron (B1.1.529), the new COVID-19 variant of concern. The state health department on Sunday said it is geared up to meet resurgence of COVID infections triggered by Omicron.

The entire healthcare machinery is prepared and alert to handle a possible surge in COVID infections, said the director of public health (DPH) Dr. G. Srinivasa Rao.

The state department has strengthened surveillance at the airport. "We are on a state of high alert at the RGIA airport in Shamshabad. The state government has enough manpower at the airport and international passengers are being screened. We are also conducting RT-PCR tests at the airport itself and arrangements are being made to keep passengers who test COVID-positive in a 14-day quarantine. So far, not a single Omicron case has been reported in India," said Dr. Rao after a review meeting with the health minister.

The World Health Organization has declared a new COVID-19 strain as a Variant of Concern (VOC). It has sparked fear around the world. The new variant was first detected in South Africa on 24 November. Apart from South Africa, Omicron has been detected in Israel, Malawi Botswana, Belgium, and Hong Kong.

"Early analysis shows that this variant has a large number of mutations that require and will undergo further study. It'll take a few weeks for us to understand what impact this variant has. Researchers are working to understand more," said Christian Lindmeier, spokesperson for WHO, on the new variant.

On Sunday, DPH said that on-the-spot tests will be conducted for those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. Samples will be sent for genome sequencing if anyone tests positive to know the presence of the new variant.

About 90% of all eligible individuals have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine while 45% have received the second dose in Telangana. About 25 lakh individuals in Telangana have missed the second dose. "I urge people not to panic but at the same time not to take things easy. This is the time to get vaccinated at the earliest and follow COVID-appropriate behavior," he said.

Meanwhile, Dr Ramesh Reddy, the director of medical education, said it is too early to predict the impact of the Omicron variant and the third wave. However, people must start taking COVID precautions seriously, he said.

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