The new variant of Sars_Cov_2, Omicron, has arrived in India and four people have been found to be infected till now. Many people are suspects as their reports of genome sequencing are awaited. Besides India, this variant, which emerged from Botswana in Africa, has gone to around 40 countries and public health experts have advised extreme caution.
“People who want to travel abroad, are advised to postpone it due to various restrictions, however, domestic travellers in India don’t need to cancel their travel. I advise them to have their guard up all the time to protect themselves from getting infected,” Dr Ishwar Gilada, infectious disease expert and the President of AIDS Society of India, said.
Public health experts advise travellers to follow five steps to avoid contracting the virus -:
Vaccinate yourself as early as possible: If you haven’t contracted Covid-19 in the past, then you must vaccinate yourself before planning any travel. Available scientific evidence suggests that the reinfection rate is extremely low, however, those who don’t have any Covid-19 history, have a high possibility of picking infection and developing a severe disease of Covid-19.
“Even a vaccinated person can become infected but the benefit of vaccination is that it will not develop into a severe case of Covid-19. That’s why I advise every person to take the vaccine,” Dr Gilada said.
Answering the question, Will the existing vaccines work against Omicron?, a release issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare says, “Vaccines are expected to still offer protection against severe disease and, vaccination with the available vaccines is crucial. If eligible, but not vaccinated, one should get vaccinated.”
Wear a mask all the time: Public health experts say that a good mask if worn properly covering both nose and mouth, can minimize the chances of infection by 95 per cent. “People don’t wear it properly and they take it for granted. They often wear it at the chin or on the forehead which is of no use. I advise all the travellers to keep the mask all the time. It is a myth that it can cause any respiratory issues. In fact, besides Sars_Cov_2 or any of its variants, a good mask is a protective shield against various other infectious diseases and pollutants too” Dr Gilada added.
Maintain Social distancing if possible: Public places are often crowded which makes it difficult for anyone to maintain a safe physical distance from others. Even in aircraft and trains, it is not possible to exercise this norm.
“As we know that the virus remains suspended in the air for some time when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speak loudly. A safe distance ensures that the droplets coming out from an infected person cannot travel from one person to another,” Dr Rahul Bhargava, HoD, Department of Hematology, Fortis Hospital, said.
“So, if possible one should stay away from the crowd. In case, it is unavoidable to maintain a distance, please wear the mask properly because it can keep off the virus from entering into your nose,” he added.
Maintain hand hygiene, avoid air-conditioned places: This is another basic norm of appropriate Covid behaviour which can help check the spread of infection.
When an infected person sneezes or touches anything, he or she disperses the virus at objects around him. Unnecessary touching of objects infect the hands, hence frequent hand sanitising is important to kill the virus. Often people touch the nose or mouth with the infected hand and this helps the virus enter the body.
One should avoid an air-conditioned area and choose a well-ventilated place for a stay as the chances of spread of the virus in the air-conditioned environment is very high.
“Studies have shown that once a person enters into an air-conditioned room, he infects the room with his breath or coughing. The virus circulates in the room and whosoever comes in contact with it, gets infected. On the other hand, a well-ventilated room gets disinfected with fresh air circulation all the time,” Dr. Bhargava said.
Check travel norms of destination state: After the reports of the presence of Omicron in India, states have come up with Covid-19 guidelines for both domestic and international travellers.
Some states/ UTs like Andaman & Nicobar, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh etc have made the RTPCR test mandatory for those domestic travellers who don’t carry certificates of both doses of vaccination. States like Bihar, Odisha, Sikkim etc haven’t imposed any such condition.
Even quarantine norms vary from state to state, hence it is advisable for all the travellers to know beforehand the Covid-19 guidelines of the destination to avoid inconvenience.
(With PTI Inputs)