Two males one aged 66 years and other 46 years old were found to be positive for Omicron through Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), the government said. “All primary contacts and secondary contacts of both the cases have been traced and are being tested. Both the persons have travelled to South Africa,” said Lav Agarwal, joint secretary, union health ministry.
Considering the assessment by the World Health Organization (WHO) that found the overall global risk related to the new SARS CoV2 variant of concern Omicron (B.1.1.529) “very high”, Indian government has stepped it surveillance of international passengers and is on high alert.
So far, there have been 373 cases of Omicron Variant in 29 countries. Omicron is a highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations, some of which are concerning and may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility, the WHO said.
However, the officials have said that 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 suggest an increased growth rate, but not yet known if Omicron is more transmissible compared to other Variants of Concern, including Delta. Reports of cases of Omicron range from mild to severe. Too early to assess whether infection causes more or less severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta,” said Agarwal. “Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may reflect force of infection, rather than increased virulence. The landscape of circulating variants in India showed a dominance of Delta (B.1.617.2) over other variants since April 2021,” he said.
Omicron variant was first reported to WHO in South Africa on 24th Nov, and the second case was reported from Botswana WHO announced Omicron as ‘Variant of Concern’ on 26 Nov ’21. India started monitoring the international passengers last month. Total 37 international flights landed from midnight of 1st December till 8 am on Thursday. The number of passengers from “at risk” countries were 7976, who were tested with RT PCR. 10 passengers were found to be Covid-19 Positive, according to the central government.
“We have revised the international guidelines, travelers from specified countries at risk would follow additional measures including post-arrival RT-PCR; sample to be sent for genome sequencing. At least 2% passengers in international flight will have to undergo RT-PCR test on arrival. RTPCR test can detect omicron,” said Agarwal.
After the entry of omicron virus to India was confirmed, the WHO on Thursday cautioned India over further strengthening the containment measures. “The confirmation of Omicron Variant of Concern today by India, the first two cases in WHO South-East Asia Region, was not unexpected in view of the interconnected world that we live in. This emphasizes on the need for all countries to step up surveillance, to be on alert and rapidly detect any importation and take measures to curtail further spread of the virus,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region said.
“The response measures for all variants, including Omicron, is the same as that for SARS CoV2. Comprehensive and tailored public health and social measures by governments, and strict adherence to preventive and precautionary measures by individuals, is a must,” she said.
Singh recommended that people must wear well-fitting mask which covers their nose and mouth well, keep distance, avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces, keep hands clean, cover cough and sneeze and get vaccinated. And 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 has reported over 9,765 New coronavirus cases reported in the last 24 hours. “At least 54% of the total cases in last week are reported from Kerala. While overall positivity across the country gives comfort, there are still large number of districts reporting high case positivity,” said Agarwal.
India’s Active Caseload presently stands at 99,763. Active cases constitute 0.29% of the country’s total Positive Cases, which is lowest since March 2020. India has so far conducted over 64.35 Crore cumulative tests.
Agarwal cautioned that one covid-19 appropriate behaviour should be strictly followed citing that surge in cases is being noted globally with Europe contributing to 70% of the total new cases in the last one week. In the week ending 28 Nov, around 2.75 Lakh new cases and over 29,000 deaths were reported in Europe.
Public health experts have said that India’s large population may give chance to the virus to spread. “As India is a huge country with large population, people are still being vaccinated with second dose. As Omicron virus is highly transmissible, it can spread rapidly and infect 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 take a decision on giving booster dose of vaccine to high-risk individuals as well. Another wave not only increase morbidity and mortality but will also have huge economic cost to individuals and the country,” he said.
Meanwhile, the cumulative number of covid-19 vaccine doses administered in the country has crossed 125 Crore on Thursday. “Out of the total doses administered, 79.13 Crore (84.3%) beneficiaries have been vaccinated for first dose and 45.82 Crore (49%) received second dose of vaccine as per the provisional report,” said Agarwal.
Rajesh Bhushan, Union Health Secretary also reviewed the progress of ‘Har Ghar Dastak’ nation-wide covid-19 vaccination campaign. The government said that the campaign has resulted in a hike of 5.9% in the first dose coverage (till 30th Nov), and a jump of 11.7% in second dose covid-19 vaccination coverage during the campaign.
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