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NEW DELHI : The Centre on Tuesday asked states to impose night curfew and strictly regulate large gatherings amid a surge in cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant in different parts of the country.

The move comes a day after the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that increased social mixing over the holiday period in many countries would lead to a spike in cases, overwhelm health systems and result in more deaths.

With surging crowds in pre-Christmas and New Year celebrations as well as the wedding season, Omicron cases breached the 200 mark on Tuesday.

Rajesh Bhushan, Union health secretary, urged states to cut the number of people attending marriage and funerals and restrict numbers in offices, industries and public transport.

Bhushan said that Omicron is at least three times more transmissible than the Delta strain based on current scientific evidence.

“Besides, the Delta is still present in different parts of the country. Hence, even greater foresight, data analysis, dynamic decision making and strict and prompt containment action is required at the local and district level. The decision making at the state/UT and district level must be very prompt and focused," said Bhushan.

The Centre recommended strategies for containment and restrictions, keeping the “district" as a unit. Bhushan suggested that at the district level, there should be a constant review of emerging data regarding the population affected by covid-19, geographical spread, hospital infrastructure and its utilization, manpower, notifying containment zones, and enforcement of perimeter of containment zones.

“This evidence should be the basis for effective decision making at the district level itself. Such a strategy ensures that infection is contained at the local level itself before it spreads to other parts of the state," Bhushan said in a letter to state officials.

“The main elements of the framework to be used by states and UTs to facilitate decision making at the district level is test positivity of 10% or more in the last one week or bed occupancy of 40% or more on oxygen supported or ICU beds. ln case any one of these parameters are met in any district, district-level containment measures and restrictions may be put in place forthwith. Equally important, the restrictions must be strictly enforced," he said.

However, based on the local situation and population characteristics such as density and keeping in mind the higher transmissibility of Omicron, States/UTs can take containment measures, and restrictions even before these thresholds are reached.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general, the WHO, on Monday, said there is consistent evidence that Omicron is spreading significantly faster than Delta. And it is more likely that people who have been vaccinated or have recovered from covid-19 could be infected or reinfected.

The central government has said that in case of all new clusters of covid positive cases, prompt notification of “containment zones" and “buffer zones" should be done, strict perimeter control of containment zone as per guidelines must be ensured.

Bhushan said that all cluster samples must be sent to INSACOG labs for genome sequencing without delay. Furthermore, along with testing and door-to-door search, states have also been advised for testing of all severe acute respiratory infection/influenza-like illness and vulnerable/co-morbid people, ensuring the right proportion of RT-PCR tests in total tests being conducted daily, contact tracing of all covid-positive persons and their timely testing, utilizing the access to “Air Suvidha" portal by state surveillance officers (SSOs) and district surveillance officers to monitor the international passengers who have arrived in their states and districts.

Bhushan also asked states to increase bed capacity, other logistics such as ambulances, a mechanism for seamless shifting of patients, availability and operational readiness of oxygen equipment, buffer stock of drugs to be ensured by prompt utilization of Emergency Covid Response Package (ECRP-ll) funds released by the central government and other available resources.

The existing National Clinical Management Protocol remains unchanged for Omicron, the government said, adding that there should be stringent enforcement of home isolation as per existing guidelines.

“This would include among others: customized kit for persons undergoing home isolation, their regular monitoring through call centres as well as home visits, etc. This will be a very critical activity in the days to come, especially to ensure that persons under home isolation do not spread the virus to others in view of its higher transmissibility," said Bhushan, adding that 100% vaccination of eligible population should be ensured.

“Regular reviews with field officers and proactive action in this regard will definitely control the spread of infection and flatten the curve," he said.

While India’s cumulative covid-19 vaccination neared 1.39 billion, the country recorded over 5,326 new cases in the last 24 hours.

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