With the Centre anticipating a rise in the Covid-19 cases in January, states have been asked to send weekly reports on severe acute respiratory illness (SARI) and influenza like illness (ILI) to the Union Health Ministry so that early signs of a surge could be captured.

Additionally, the Union Commerce Ministry has been asked to monitor ongoing exports of medicinal products and equipment to China so that there is no shortage of medicines including Covid drugs in India. Such an instruction from the Prime Minister’s Office comes in the wake of high demand for medicines in China where the BF-7 variant of SARS-CoV-2 rips through the country sending millions to hospitals.

The two are part of the decisions taken at a high-level Covid-19 review meeting chaired by P K Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister along with senior officials and experts.

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In addition, the whole genome sequencing programme is being strengthened so that laboratories could carry out more genome sequencing. The INSACOG laboratories conducted sequencing of around 500 samples in December and states have been asked to send more samples to the laboratories for sequencing.

“Monitoring of cases of SARI, ILI and similar diseases to identify early warning signals has started in states,” a source said, noting that the states were advised to submit a weekly report on the SARI and ILI status to the union health ministry.

This is the fourth high-level review meeting on the Covid-19 situation undertaken by the central government in the last ten days.

Besides, there was a dry-run involving more than 21,000 hospitals to check if they are ready to deal with a new surge. Also the international travel guidelines have been modified bringing back random checks – 1,716 international flights have been screened and 5,666 samples collected - and making pre-flight RT-PCR negative report mandatory for travelers coming from China and five other Asian nations.

A body of medics, however, argued against travel restriction and asked doctors and government agencies to avoid scaremongering taking into account India’s relatively safe status against the existing Covid variants.

"Natural Covid-19 infection in India is over 90 per cent of the population. Because of our excellent vaccination - around 75 per cent of the population received two doses and 28 per cent received booster, making us the nation with the highest percentage of hybrid immunity,” the Organised Medicine Academic Guild - a body of 15 professional medical associations - said in a statement on Saturday.

“By mandating even fully vaccinated Indians to a negative RT-PCR report will amount to doubting the efficacy of our vaccines and unnecessarily putting our people at inconvenience. This needs to be revisited and revised immediately. Severe travel restrictions are no longer considered useful in arresting the spread of Covid-19 infections and are in fact detrimental to economy and development,” the OMAG said.

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