No Omicron Case Yet; Centre Asks States To Ramp Up Testing: 10 Points


The Omicron COVID-19 strain is believed to be more infectious than the Delta variant (File)

New Delhi:
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan met with senior state and UT officials Tuesday and urged them to scale up Covid testing rates, as cases of the ‘Omicron’ variant – which the WHO has said poses a “very high” risk – are reported globally.

Here are the top 10 points in this big story:

  1. The Omicron strain – first detected in South Africa last week and in over a dozen countries since, including the UK, Germany, Italy, and Hong Kong – has not yet been reported in India, government officials were quoted by news agency PTI after today’s meeting.

  2. Omicron does not (at this time) escape detection from existing tests, including the cheaper and faster antigen tests. States and UTs have been urged scale up testing for early identification and management of cases. They have also been told to augment health infrastructure and home isolation, as well as focus on containment and surveillance, and widening of vaccine coverage.

  3. Yesterday, Dr Samiran Panda, who is Head of Epidemiology at the ICMR (the government’s nodal body in the pandemic), told NDTV: “I won’t be surprised if there’s detection in India. It’s just a matter of time, given the high transmissibility that this variant comes with.”

  4. Last week Mr Bhushan wrote to state and UTs to stress on rigorous surveillance of international passengers and ensure the prompt dispatch of samples for genome sequencing, as well as strict enforcement of Covid-appropriate behaviour. “This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations… has serious public health implications for the country…” he wrote.

  5. During this morning’s meeting the Health Secretary underlined the importance of that order, and the government also ordered that Covid-positive samples of people returning from ‘at risk’ countries be sent to designated genome sequencing labs (part of the INSACOG network).

  6. Also last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a review meeting with senior officials (including Mr Bhushan) and Dr VK Paul, the head of India’s Covid task force. The PM asked officials to review plans to ease restrictions on international travel. This was a day after the Aviation Ministry said scheduled international passenger flights could resume December 15.

  7. The Prime Minister also highlighted the need to monitor all international arrivals, and conduct Covid tests with a specific focus on those arriving from countries designated as ‘at risk’ – including those where Omicron cases have been reported – by the Health Ministry.

  8. The Omicron strain – earlier identified as B.1.1.529 and now designated by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) as a ‘variant of concern’ – is believed to have 50 mutations, including over 30 on the spike protein, which is the target of most current vaccines and is what the virus uses to unlock access to our body’s cells.

  9. Researchers are still trying to confirm if this strain is more transmissible or lethal than earlier variants, and if existing vaccines can guard against it.

  10. The countries designated as ”at-risk” (updated as of November 26) include European countries, the UK, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Israel.

With input from PTI

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