Two cases of the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, were detected in Karnataka, making them the first infections from the new strain in India.
A 66-year-old South African national, had travelled from there and has already left India, officials said. The second – a 46-year-old doctor in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru – has no travel history.
These are the first cases of the new Omicron variant to be reported in India.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that Omicron poses a “high infection risk”.
At a press briefing on Thursday, health officials said the two patients with the new strain had shown mild symptoms.
All their primary contacts and secondary contacts have been traced and are being tested.
According to an official release, five contacts of the 46-year old man have tested positive so far. The patients have been isolated and their samples have been sent for genome testing.
The South African national landed in Bengaluru on 20 November. He was screened at the airport and found to be Covid positive, following which he isolated himself in a hotel. Two days later, his samples were sent for genome sequencing, the official release said.
He also got himself tested at a private lab – and he got a negative result. On 27 November, he took a cab to the Bengaluru airport and left for Dubai.
Officials said 24 primary contacts and 240 secondary contacts of the man were traced, and all of them have tested negative.
Following the discovery of the two patients in Karnataka, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said he was monitoring the situation closely. “Our duty is now to track and trace such strains and their contacts wherever it’s found. We are already tracking and tracing international travellers,” he said.
Six samples from people who tested positive for Covid-19 in the national capital Delhi, and another six samples from the western state of Maharashtra, have also been sent for genome sequencing to determine the variant. Officials are still awaiting results. Several other cities and states are following suit.
Starting Wednesday, India announced new travel restrictions for international passengers arriving from “at-risk” countries a list that includes the UK, South Africa, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Hong Kong and Israel.
They will be tested on arrival and cannot leave the airport without their test results. Those who test positive will be isolated and treated, and their samples will be sent for genome sequencing. Those who test negative must quarantine at home for seven days and get tested again on the eighth day.
Different Indian states have announced different policies for travellers – all passengers flying into Maharashtra from “at-risk” countries will have to spend seven days in institutional quarantine. Delhi and Karnataka have said all international passengers will have to undergo PCR tests on arrival.
“We are immediately checking suspicious cases and conducting genome sequencing,” health minister Mansukh Mandaviya told Parliament on Tuesday.
“We have learned a lot during the Covid crisis. Today, we have a lot of resources and laboratories. We can manage any situation,” he added.
Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reviewed the country’s public health preparedness and urged people to continue following Covid safety norms.
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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