Two more persons in India on Saturday tested positive for the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, bringing its tally to four. A 72-year-old in Gujarat and a 33-year-old in Mumbai, both men, were confirmed by the health authorities as affected by the variant.
The elderly man had travelled to Jamnagar from Zimbabwe via Mumbai. Officials confirmed to The Hindu that he had “mild symptoms” but his vaccination status couldn’t be confirmed. It is unclear, however, if he is an Indian national or an NRI (Non-Resident Indian). In Maharashtra, the 33-year-old, who is unvaccinated, arrived in Mumbai on November 24 from Cape Town through Dubai and Delhi.
Here are the latest developments :
No deaths yet as Omicron grips 38 countries: WHO
The Omicron variant has been detected in 38 countries but no deaths have yet been reported, the WHO said on Friday, as authorities worldwide rushed to stem the heavily mutated COVID-19 strain’s spread amid warnings that it could damage the global economic recovery.
The U.S. and Australia became the latest countries to confirm locally transmitted cases of the variant .
The WHO has warned it could take weeks to determine how infectious the variant is, whether it causes more severe illness and how effective treatments and vaccines are against it.
India reports two more Omicron cases
India has reported its third and fourth Omicron cases from Gujarat and Maharashtra respectively. The third case, a 72-year-old man, who travelled to Jamnagar , had come to the country via Mumbai. It is unclear, however, if the person, who came from Zimbabwe, is an Indian national or an NRI (non-resident Indian). Officials confirmed to The Hindu that he had “mild symptoms” but his vaccination status couldn’t be confirmed.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra too has confirmed its first and the country's fourth Omicron case. "Presence of the Omicron variant has been confirmed from laboratory investigation in a 33-year-old passenger arrived in Mumbai on 24th November 2021 from Capetown, South Africathrough Dubai and Delhi. The passenger is the first patient with Omicron variant in the state," said the statement from Maharashtra's Health Department. The passenger is a resident of Kalyan-Dombivali Municipal Corporation and has nottaken any Covid-19 vaccine. On November 24, the passenger got mild fever. However, noother symptoms were observed and is being treated at the Covid Care Centre in Kalyan-Dombivali. Twelve of the passenger’s high-risk contacts and 23 of the low-risk contacts have been traced andall have been tested negative for Covid-19. Additionally, 25 of the co-passengers from theDelhi-Mumbai flight have also been tested negative. More contacts are currently beingtraced.
Double vaccinate against COVID-19 first, experts say amid calls for booster shots
India should prioritise double vaccinating its eligible population against Covid over booster shots given the large number of people still to get the base layer of protection against the infection, say scientists.
Concerns over the Omicron variant and waning vaccine-induced protection against the infection have highlighted the need for boosters to protect the most vulnerable. And while many countries have already started giving booster shots, several experts here said the priority in India has to be different given that large-scale immunisation programme began only six-eight months go.
In advocating putting boosters on the back-burner for the moment, the experts’ opinion runs counter to the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Sequencing Consortium (INSACOG) that has recommended a booster dose for those above 40 years in high-risk and high-exposure populations.
The INSACOG is a network of national testing labs set up by the government to monitor genomic variations of COVID-19.
“We have a large proportion of our population in the below 18 age-group. Until that is achieved, a uniform policy for second booster, or a third dose, is not advisable,” immunologist Vineeta Bal told PTI, pointing out that large-scale vaccination in India began only in March 2021.
What we should focus on, she said, is fully vaccinating all the eligible population in India and pushing for vaccination of the under 18 age group on a large scale.
“Consistent finding with breakthrough infections is that these episodes are less in severity as compared to unvaccinated. That still confirms that immunity does exist in vaccinated individuals in India,” Ms. Bal, guest faculty at Pune's Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, told PTI . -PTI
RWAs in Bengaluru told to permit entry only to people with two doses of COVID-19 vaccine
Karnataka Government has told all owners’ associations of apartment complexes to permit entry only to people who have taken two doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
The government has also told residential associations to conduct meetings on their premises only with people who have taken two doses of the vaccine against COVID-19.
Mumbai civic body mandates 7-day home quarantine of passengers from high-risk countries
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has mandated seven-day home quarantine of people arriving in the city from high-risk countries amid global concerns over the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
The BMC issued this order on Friday as Mumbai international airport caters to thousands of travellers on a daily basis.
The civic body's order said that with the coordination of the airport authorities, the BMC will everyday receive a list of passengers, who arrive from the countries defined as "high-risk" or "at risk". The list will also include the detailed address and contact numbers of these travellers. -PTI
Parliamentary panel recommends evaluation of vaccines, more research for booster dose
Amid growing concerns over the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, a parliamentary committee has recommended that the efficacy of Covid vaccines must be evaluated and the government conduct more research to examine the need for booster doses to contain the new strain.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health, which presented its report on Friday, also said that concerns with regard to the new strain developing immunoescape mechanism should be critically addressed. -PTI
India reports 8603 fresh Covid infections, active cases remain below 1 lakh
With 8,603 people testing positive for coronavirus infection in a day, India's tally of COVID-19 cases rose to 3,46,24,360, but active cases declined to 99,974, according to Union Health Ministry data updated on Saturday.
The death toll, however, climbed to 4,70,530 with 415 fatalities reported on Saturday, the data released at 8 am showed.
The daily rise in coronavirus infections has been less than 50,000 for 160 consecutive days now.
The active cases have declined to 99,974, comprising 0.29% of the total infections, the lowest since March 2020, while the national COVID-19 recovery rate was recorded at 98.35%, the health ministry said. -PTI
Omicron is in 38 countries, no deaths reported: WHO
Omicron has been detected in 38 countries but there are no reported deaths so far from the new Covid-19 variant, the World Health Organization said Friday.
A WHO spokesman told reporters that the UN health agency had "not seen reports of Omicron-related deaths yet".
And Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's technical lead on Covid-19, said Omicron had been reported in 38 countries, with the variant now spread across all six WHO regions. -AFP
Online booking for rapid test at airport to be open to all
All passengers will soon be allowed to undergo RT-PCR and the Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) testing for SARS CoV-2 at Chennai airport. Passengers can pay for the test and get the results before boarding a flight or exiting the airport.
Authorities are working on rectifying a glitch on the portal for online booking of slots for the Rapid Antigen Test for outbound passengers.
WHO says no evidence to support tailoring COVID-19 vaccines to Omicron
The World Health Organization's emergencies director, Mike Ryan, said on Friday there was no evidence to support a change in COVID-19 vaccines to tailor them to the Omicron variant.
Ryan, speaking at a social media event, said that if needed, however, the work was already underway in case Omicron-specific vaccines were needed. -AP
Merck to supply up to 1 million courses of COVID-19 pill to Canada
Merck & Co said on Friday it would supply the Canada with up to 1 million courses of molnupiravir, its experimental oral antiviral medicine for the treatment of COVID-19.
The government of Canada has secured access to 500,000 courses in 2022, with options for up to 500,000 more, pending Health Canada's approval, the company said. -Reuters
Mexico, Tunisia, Sri Lanka, Cook Islands report first cases of Omicron
The first case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been confirmed in Mexico, the deputy health minister said on Friday, sparking concerns a new spike in infections could follow.
Tunisia recorded its first confirmed case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in a Congolese man who arrived from Istanbul, the health minister said Friday.
Sri Lanka announced Friday it has confirmed its first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in an unvaccinated person who returned from Nigeria.
The Cook Islands on Saturday recorded its first case of Covid-19 since the pandemic began, as the South Pacific country edges toward reopening its borders to tourists. -Reuters, AFP, AP
Parliamentary panel recommends evaluation of vaccines in view of new Covid strain
Amid growing concerns over the new Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, a parliamentary committee has recommended that the efficacy of Covid vaccines must be evaluated and concerns with regards to the new strain developing immunoescape mechanism critically addressed.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health, which presented its report on Friday, also recommended that the government should conduct more research and examine the need of administering booster doses of vaccines to contain the new strain of the virus. -PTI
W.B. govt orders 7-days isolation, RTPCR to continue
West Bengal government on Friday directed that travellers from countries affected by Omicron to the state will be required to stay in isolation for seven days, a senior official said.
Travellers flying in from other parts of the country will have to furnish their reports of RTPCR tests as the threat of Omicron, the COVID variant, looms across the world, he said. -PTI
BCCI set to clear Indian team's travel to South Africa
Indian cricketers will travel to South Africa later this month despite the threat of new COVID-19 mutant Omicron as the BCCI is convinced that the bio-bubble being created by the CSA will be safe and secure for the players.
The tour comprises three Tests, three ODIs and four T20 Internationals and is scheduled to start on December 17 at the Johannesburg.
The players will remain in a water-tight environment during the near seven-week tour. -PTI
All schools will resume for classes I to VIII from Monday
Puducherry Education Minister A Namassivayam announced on Friday that all schools in Puducherry and Karaikal regions would resume holding classes for students of standards one to eight on Monday.
He told reporters that the schools should have reopened for the classes one to eight on November 8, but heavy rains then necessitated a postponement. -PTI
Tasmac shops to follow pre-COVID-19 timings
The Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation Limited (Tasmac) on Friday said its shops would revert to pre-COVID-19 timings — noon to 10 p.m. — with immediate effect. Prior to the announcement, the outlets were operating from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
In a circular sent to all senior regional managers and district managers, L. Subramanian, managing director, Tasmac, said COVID-19 protocols should be followed.
Omicron: State Health Dept. on high alert
In the wake of India’s first two Omicron cases being detected in Karnataka, the State Health Department is on high alert. All medical colleges in the districts have been directed to gear up and be prepared to deal with a possible third wave.
Health and Medical Education Minister K. Sudhakar, who on Friday met the deans and heads of various departments in the 21 medical colleges, directed them to train 18,000 nursing students, ramp up paediatric ICUs, and keep other required infrastructure ready.
‘Doctor, contacts have only mild fever’
The 46-year-old anaesthetist from a government hospital in Bengaluru, infected with the Omicron variant, and all his five contacts are largely asymptomatic, said doctors at the State-run Bowring and Lady Curzon Medical College and Research Institute, where they have been admitted.
Following recommendations by the State’s COVID-19 Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), a 60-bed dedicated ‘Omicron’ treatment facility has been set up at the hospital.
BBMP yet to complete contact tracing
A day after five persons — all contacts of the 46-year-old Bengaluru resident who contracted the Omicron strain of the coronavirus — tested positive for COVID-19, the civic up has stepped up its contact tracing efforts.
According to Bruhat Bengaluru Mahangara Palike health officials, so far, they have been able to identify 23 primary contacts and 207 secondary contacts of the five people. Contact tracing of four people has been completed, while that of the fifth person is still under way and is likely to be completed soon. All contacts will be isolated and tested, said civic officials.
Responding to rumours that among the international returnees, 10 persons are yet to be traced, BBMP chief commissioner Gaurav Gupta said that these persons from at-risk countries had arrived in the city in early November, when the new variant of COVID-19 and at-risk countries were yet to be identified,” he said.
BIAL to bear test costs for those from non-risk countries
International passengers from non-risk countries who are randomly selected for testing for COVID-19 will not have to pay for RT-PCR. BIAL on Friday announced that it will bear testing costs for 2% of international passengers who will be randomly chosen at Kempegowda airport. As per protocol, passengers from non-risk countries are randomly asked to undergo COVID-19 tests after their arrival.