India’s First 2 Omicron Cases, Centre Says Don’t Panic: 10 points

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Omicron: The variant, first tagged as B.1.1.529, is the latest coronavirus strain to be detected (File)

New Delhi:
Two COVID-19 cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in Karnataka, the Health Ministry said Thursday evening, calling for calm amid growing concern over a strain that has triggered global alarm.

Here are the top 10 points in this big story:

  1. The two patients are two men – 46 and 66 years old. Sources say the 66-year-old is a foreigner with a history of travel to South Africa, and the 46-year-old is a health worker. Both are showing mild symptoms and all secondary and tertiary contacts have been traced and are being tested. The government said it would not disclose identities so as to protect patients’ privacy.

  2. As it confirmed the presence of the Omicron strain in India, the government underlined the mantra “awareness is absolutely essential”. It highlighted a WHO advisory that says Covid-appropriate behavior – use of face masks, avoiding crowded places, practicing social distance and frequently sanitising hands – remain effective in guarding against infection by any variant, including Omicron.

  3. International airports across India began intensive screening and testing of all arrivals from yesterday morning. All passengers from ‘at risk’ countries (this includes European nations and South Africa, where the Omicron strain was first detected) have to take RT-PCR tests on arrival. The test result has to be negative in order to leave the airport.

  4. Passengers from nations outside this list are being tested on a random sampling basis. They can leave before the test result is declared. All international arrivals, though, have to fill out forms so they can be located in case they (or a contact) test positive.

  5. This morning Maharashtra – which had announced a stricter set of rules and invited the centre’s displeasure in doing so – said four Covid cases had been reported among international passengers who landed in Mumbai before the Omicron travel rules. Two were from London, another from Mauritius and the fourth from South Africa.

  6. Yesterday Maharashtra and Delhi announced six Covid cases each among international arrivals, with Chandigarh reporting two more cases (including one close contact). All these cases – yesterday and today – have been placed in isolation and their samples are being tested to confirm the infecting strain.

  7. The Omicron strain – designated a ‘variant of concern’ by the WHO – is believed to have 50+ mutations, including over 30 on the spike protein, which make it significantly more infectious than the Delta variant that is currently dominant worldwide; it constitutes over 60 per cent of all Covid cases in India.

  8. Researchers are still checking if Omicron is more lethal and if current vaccines offer protection. Pfizer has begun working on a new vaccine and a drug by GlaxoSmithKline seems effective. Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute, which produces the AstraZeneca vaccine sold in India as Covishield, told NDTV an Omicron-specific booster version of its jab could be developed as well, depending on results of ongoing studies.

  9. The new variant was first detected in South Africa last week, where it is becoming the dominant strain. Within 24 hours, cases were detected in Israel, Hong Kong and Belgium. In 48 hours it was in Australia, Germany, Italy, England and other countries. As of this morning it is in over 24 countries, including the US, France and Japan.

  10. The discovery of the Omicron variant and the initial flurry of travel bans – the UK, the US and other major economies were among the first to suspend flights to and from southern Africa – led to turmoil in global financial and oil markets amid uncertainty over the strain’s capabilities and potential impact.

With input from Reuters



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