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Business News/ News / India/  India detects first  2  cases of  Omicron  in Karnataka

India detects first  2  cases of  Omicron  in Karnataka

All close contacts of patients who just returned from South Africa traced, says govt

So far 29 countries have reported 373 Omicron infectionsPremium
So far 29 countries have reported 373 Omicron infections

NEW DELHI : The first cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus were reported in Karnataka on Thursday, prompting the government to step up its surveillance of international passengers.

The male patients—one aged 66 years and the other 46 —had returned to India from South Africa, the Union health ministry said.

“All primary contacts and secondary contacts of both the cases have been traced and are being tested," said health secretary Lav Agarwal.

Public health experts had warned that they expected the highly mutant strain to spread worldwide and in India, despite travel restrictions. The World Health Organization warned that the global risk from the Omicron variant is “very high".

So far, there have been 373 cases of Omicron infection in 29 countries. The WHO said Omicron is a highly divergent variant with a large number of mutations, some of which are of concern and may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility.

However, health officials said there is no need to panic. “As per WHO, 45-52 mutations have been noted, out of which 26-32 are related to spike protein. Early data suggests an increased growth rate, but it’s not yet known if Omicron is more transmissible than other variants of concern, including Delta. Reports of cases of Omicron range from mild to severe. It’s too early to assess whether the infection causes more or less severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta," said Agarwal.

“Preliminary data suggests there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may reflect the force of infection rather than increased virulence. The landscape of circulating variants in India showed a dominance of Delta over other variants since April," he said.

The Omicron variant was first reported in South Africa on 24 November, and the second case was reported from Botswana. The WHO announced Omicron as ‘Variant of Concern’ on 26 November.

India started monitoring international passengers last month. A total of 37 international flights landed from midnight of 1 December till 8am on Thursday. The number of passengers from “at-risk" countries was 7,976, who were tested. Ten passengers were found to be covid positive, according to the government.

“We have revised the international guidelines, travellers from specified countries at risk would follow additional measures, including post-arrival RT-PCR; sample to be sent for genome sequencing. At least 2% of passengers in international flights will have to undergo RT-PCR tests on arrival. RT-PCR test can detect Omicron," Agarwal said.

The WHO on Thursday asked India to strengthen containment measures. “The confirmation of the Omicron variant of concern today by India, the first two cases in WHO South-East Asia Region, was not unexpected given the interconnected world that we live in. This emphasizes the need for all countries to step up surveillance, be on alert and rapidly detect any importation, and take measures to curtail further spread of the virus," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director WHO South-East Asia Region.

Singh recommended that people continue to take all precautionary measures even after getting vaccinated. All travellers must adhere to public health and social measures at all times and remain vigilant for signs and symptoms of covid-19.

India reported over 9,765 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours. “At least 54% of the total cases last week are reported from Kerala. So while overall positivity across the country gives comfort, there are still a large number of districts reporting high case positivity," said Agarwal.

India’s active caseload stands at 99,763, making up 0.29% of total positive cases, the lowest since March 2020. India has so far conducted over 643.5 million tests.

Public health experts said India’s large population may give a chance for the virus to spread. “As Omicron virus is highly transmissible, it can spread rapidly and infect a large number of people though we don’t know it will be as severe or more severe than delta variant or milder than earlier variant," said Dr Vikas Maurya, head of the department, director, Pulmonology, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh.

“High-risk individuals should be more careful. At some point, we might have to decide on giving a booster dose of vaccine to high-risk individuals. Another wave will not only increase morbidity and mortality but will also have a huge economic cost to individuals and the country," he said.

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Updated: 03 Dec 2021, 06:04 AM IST
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