The Union Home Ministry on Monday extended the COVID-19 guidelines till January 31, 2022 and directed all the states and union territories to strictly comply. In a letter to all Chief Secretaries of the states and UTS, Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla said that the country has witnessed an overall decline in active COVID-19 cases, however, the new variant Omicron, which is reported to be at least three times more transmissible than the Delta virus, is posing a new challenge for the COVID containment measures.

In the countries with Omicron driven surge, the growth trajectory of cases has been very steep and also a total of 578 Omicron cases have already been reported in 19 states/UTs, he added.

I would like to reiterate that all the states/UTs must observe all precautions and not let the guard down. Local/district administration, based on the normative framework and assessment of the situation, should promptly take appropriate containment measures and the states may consider imposing need based, local curbs or restrictions to control the crowd during the festive season, Bhalla said in the letter.

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The Home Secretary also said that globally, Omicron cases have already been reported in 116 countries. Further, surge in cases is also being reported across various countries, especially in the USA, the UK, Europe (France, Italy, Spain), Russia, South Africa, Vietnam, Australia and in this background, the Union Health Ministry has provided an advisory on December 21, 2021, a normative framework has been provided.

Emphasising on the continued focus on the fivefold strategy of Test Track Treat Vaccination and adherence to COVID ap propriate behaviour, he also said that to avoid the possibility of surge in cases, especially keeping in view the new virus of concern Omicron, the State enforcement machinery should strictly implement the norms of health protocols and appropriate behaviour.

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