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New Delhi: The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed community transmission of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in the UK and South Africa, raising concerns about the potential impact of the fast-spreading strain in India.

With fresh Omicron cases erupting from Delhi, Maharashtra and Gujarat, taking the tally to 61, the central government and states strengthened surveillance and testing for the new variant along with the increasing pace of vaccination. The WHO, in its latest update on the variant, said that community transmission had been confirmed in South Africa and the UK and cases with no epidemiological link to travel outside the European Union or European Economic Area have been reported in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Spain and Iceland.

With Omicron cases rising in India Dr V.K. Paul, member, NITI Aayog, expressed concern that available vaccines may become ineffective against emerging variants. “There is a potential scenario that our vaccines may become ineffective in emerging situations, and there is a need to create vaccines, using the same platform, to target the variant of the day. A much more concerted approach to drug development is required," Paul said.

He was addressing a session on ‘From Epidemic to Endemic: The New Paradigm’ at the Partnership Summit 2021, organized by CII in association with the department for promotion of industry and internal trade (DPIIT), ministry of commerce and industry.

Adar Poonawala, CEO, Serum Institute of India (SII), on the same platform, said clarity on Omicron would be coming in a month, and it would also be known how effective current vaccines are against the new virus. “One thing is certain—that Omicron is definitely more infectious and will spread very quickly across the globe. But how severe it is going to be and how many hospitalizations it is going to cause is something that we are going to wait and watch. The initial reports show that it is quite mild. However, we should not take it lightly," Poonawalla said.

India has so far administered more than 1.34 billion covid-19 vaccines.

Omicron is spreading fast in South Africa, where the incidence of Delta is low, but also appears to be spreading faster than the Delta variant in other countries with a high incidence of Delta, suggesting that Omicron will likely outpace the Delta variant where community transmission occurs, the WHO has said.

“Whether Omicron’s observed rapid growth rate in countries with high levels of population immunity is related to immune evasion, intrinsic increased transmissibility or a combination of both remains uncertain. However, given the currently available data, it is likely that Omicron will outpace the Delta variant where community transmission occurs," the WHO said.

The WHO urged countries to bolster their testing and genomic sequencing capabilities to cope with possible surges in testing demand for community and international travellers.

Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain on Tuesday said that four new Omicron cases were detected in the national capital. This takes the total number of Omicron cases to six in Delhi. Covid testing is being done on travellers coming from abroad. The four new cases were detected among travellers.

“Out of the six cases of Omicron, one patient has been discharged from the hospital, and the rest are in stable condition. Currently, 35 covid patients and three suspected cases are admitted to Lok Nayak Hospital," he said, adding that there is no community transmission of the virus in the national capital.

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