In a shocking piece of news, the new and deadly Covid-19 variant 'Omicron' has entered India as the country has reported two cases on Thursday - December 2, amid upscaling the restrictions and measures to battle the latest global outbreak. Omicron was recently designated as a VOC (Variant of Concern) by the World Health Organization (WHO) and it was first reported in South Africa on November 24 and it has become a global threat within a week.
Several global countries are closing their borders from the countries that had reported the cases of Omicron and the variant has been considered to be spreading fastly. As the experts have said that it may take weeks to analyse the characteristics of the variant and how effective the vaccines are against it, the countries are installing comprehensive measures to keep the variant at the bay. India has also been staying alert over the outbreak and on Thursday, the country has reported the cases of Omicron for the first time.
The two Covid-19 cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in Karnataka and they have been isolated. With the reporting, India has become the 30th country in the world to record the Omicron cases. Addressing a news briefing concerning the development, Union Health Ministry's Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal has said that two patients are men aged 66 and 46. He had denied disclosing their identity to protect their privacy.
However, the reports say that the 66-year-old is a foreigner with a history of travel to South Africa and the 46-year-old man is a health worker in Bengaluru. Agarwal said that all people who came in contact with the two men have been traced and are being tested and affirmed that both the cases are mild and there are no severe symptoms so far. He said, "We need not panic about Omicron detection but awareness is absolutely essential. Follow Covid appropriate behaviour and avoid gatherings."
He further said, "It is too early to assess whether Omicron causes more severe infection or less compared to other variants, including Delta." ICMR Director-General Dr Balram Bhargava said, "Two cases of Omicron have been detected in Karnataka through genome sequencing effort of INSACOG consortium of 37 laboratories established by the Ministry of Health. We need not panic, but awareness is absolutely essential."
Agarwal stated, "All Omicron related cases are found to have mild symptoms so far. In all such cases in the country and across the world so far, no severe symptom has been noted", adding that a surge in the Covid-19 cases is being noted across the world with Europe alone reporting 70 per cent of cases in the last one week. "In the week ending November 28, around 2.75 lakh new cases and over 31,000 deaths were reported in the European region", he highlighted.
Dr VK Paul, Chief of the Centre's Covid-19 task force, said, "There will be no drastic curbs any time soon. The situation is well under control." Omicron has become the latest Covid-19 variant to emerge since the start of the pandemic and previously, the Delta variant, which was detected in India in October 2020, had dominated the globe. During the press briefing, Paul further said that the Omicron variant is being carefully examined and the decisions will be taken on the basis of it and added that the Covid-19 vaccination should be increased.
Reacting to the development, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, the Regional Director of WHO South-East Asia said, "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. The Omicron variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Researchers around the world are conducting studies to better understand transmissibility, severity & immune escape capabilities of Omicron."
The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the civic body of the city, has said, "Two cases of Omicron detected in Karnataka - one of the two patients is a 66-year-old male while the other is a 46-year-old male. The former had returned from South Africa via Dubai and was fully vaccinated." It further said, "Three primary contacts and two secondary contacts of the 46-year-old male tested positive between 22nd and 25th November. Their samples have been sent for genome sequencing, results are awaited."
Earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had held a high-level discussion to take stock of the preparedness to tackle the spread of the variant in the country. It must be noted that India was set to restart scheduled commercial international flights on December 15, but on Wednesday, the government has taken back the decision of resumption and said that the date of resuming international flights will be announced later. As per the global tally, over 370 cases of Omicron variant have been reported so far in 30 countries, including India.