Two cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant have been detected in India, the Union health ministry said on Thursday, in the first confirmation of the strain within the country’s borders.
Both cases have been reported in Karnataka with the patients… aged 66 and 46, the ministry’s Joint Secretary, Lav Agarwal, said.
All those who came in contact with the two men – whose identities have not been disclosed to protect their privacy – have been traced and are being tested, he said.
“There is no need to panic about the Omicron detection but awareness is absolutely essential. Follow COVID-appropriate behaviour, avoid gatherings,” Agarwal said.
As details about the two patients trickled in, it seems the 46-year-old, a fully-vaccinated doctor from Bengaluru, has no travel history. Five of his contacts have turned out to be COVID-positive, Karnataka announced on Thursday evening. The patients have been isolated and their samples have been sent for genome testing.
The doctor developed symptoms of fever and body ache on November 21 and tested positive the following day. He was admitted to hospital and his sample was sent for genome sequencing the same day. Three days later, he was discharged. The Karnataka government has said he had 13 direct contacts and more than 250 secondary contacts.
The other patient, a 66-year-old South African national, came to India with a negative COVID report. The man, fully-vaccinated, tested positive on arrival and was asymptomatic, following which he was told to self-isolate. A week later, receiving a negative COVID report from a private lab, he left for Dubai. Samples from his 24 primary and 240 secondary contacts have returned negative test results.
Early indications have suggested the Omicron may be markedly more contagious than previous variants. It is the single biggest source of fear to people worldwide who have survived two deadly waves of COVID, and are worried that the latest variant may be more lethal than its predecessors.
Scientists are in a race against time to understand the latest SARS-CoV-2 strain better, so that they can come up with remedies and prevention measures. Pharmaceutical companies are adapting their vaccines to combat the mutant variety of coronavirus even as governments are looking at ways to contain the spread.
The key concerns are on whether the Omicron spreads faster than the other variants, whether it cause greater harm, and whether it is vaccine-resistant.