The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is “spreading rapidly” there are now 101 cases in 11 states in India the Health Ministry said Friday, warning that 19 districts were at high risk of a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Faced with the threat of a third wave of infections, the ministry underlined the need to follow Covid-appropriate behaviour, including the use of face masks and maintaining social distance. The ministry also urged people to avoid non-essential travel and stay away from large crowds and gatherings.
The ministry then issued a dire threat – that based on the progression of the strain in the UK (which already has over 11,000 Omicron cases), India could see a devastating 14 lakh cases daily.
Renewed warnings of the dangers posed by Omicron come as 10 new cases were reported from Delhi earlier in the day. The city has now 22 confirmed Omicron cases.
The 10 new cases were reported after a worrying spike in overall Covid cases in the city over the previous 24 hours – 85 were detected – up from 57 on Thursday and 45 on Wednesday.
Maharashtra – worst hit by earlier waves of infections – has so far recorded the most Omicron cases – 32. Rajasthan is next with 17, and Karnataka and Telangana have reported eight each. Gujarat, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Bengal, and Andhra Pradesh have also reported cases of the new variant.
A point of worry is that at least two of the Omicron cases reported from Maharashtra were young children – a three-year-old boy and an 18-month-old girl.
The government has already urged states to step up surveillance measures and focus on sequencing positive samples in an effort to identify cases and potential hotspots.
New travel rules were enforced starting December 1, requiring foreign arrivals from countries deemed ‘at risk’ to submit to RT-PCR tests and, in some cases, mandatory quarantine.
“Most cases of Omicron have a travel history or have contacts with travel histories. But there have been some cases in which we have not been able to establish any such history. In that, the process is on to identify travel or contact histories…” Dr. VK Paul, India’s Covid task force chief, said.
Omicron was first reported from South Africa last month.
Since then, it has been reported from 77 countries, including the US, Israel, Hong Kong and Japan, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the variant is “probably” in most countries.
The first cases in India were reported by Karnataka on December 2.
Earlier today the G7 (Group of Seven) called Omicron the “biggest current threat to global public health” and said it was now “more important than ever” for countries to “closely cooperate”.
A sliver of good news is that only one death has been linked to the Omicron strain so far – in the UK.
Initial studies indicate Omicron is significantly more infectious than the Delta variant that wrought havoc in India and the world, but it does lead to less severe symptoms.
The jury is still out on the variant’s vaccine-evasion ability, but medical experts have urged people to ensure they are double-vaccinated and called on governments to offer booster doses.
More about Omicron
The Omicron variant has been called a variant of concern by WHO based on studies that shows it has several mutations. Still a lot of research is underway to evaluate its transmissibility, severity and reinfection risk. The Omicron variant has been detected in several regions of the world. WHO reports that the likelihood of the Omicron variant spreading further globally is high. It is not currently known if the Omicron variant is more or less severe than other strains of COVID-19, including Delta. Studies are ongoing and this information will be updated as it becomes available. It is not yet clear whether Omicron can spread more easily from person to person compared to other variants, such as Delta. However, being vaccinated and taking precautions such as avoiding crowded spaces, keeping your distance from others and wearing a mask are critical in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and we know these actions have been effective against other variants. Researchers are looking into any potential impact the Omicron variant has on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Although information is still limited, WHO believes it is a reasonable assumption that the currently available vaccines offer some protection against severe disease and death. It is also important to be vaccinated to protect against the other widely circulating variants, such as the Delta one. When it’s your turn, make sure to get vaccinated. If your vaccination involves two doses, it’s important to receive both in order to have the maximum protection. According to WHO, early evidence suggests that people who have previously had COVID-19 could be reinfected more easily with Omicron, in comparison to other variants of concern. Information is still limited though and we will share updates as it becomes available. Source: UNICEF
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