Fresh cases in Maharashtra, Gujarat take India’s Omicron tally to 4

Both patients had travelled to Africa; Government asks 5 States, J&K to increase surveillance.

Updated - December 05, 2021 09:16 am IST

Published - December 04, 2021 03:59 pm IST - New Delhi

Photo used for representation purpose only. File

Photo used for representation purpose only. File

Two more persons in India on Saturday tested positive for the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, taking 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).


“A person is found Omicron positive in Jamnagar. We’ve isolated him and are monitoring him. A micro-containment zone has been created where he is living. We will be tracing and testing all his contacts,” Manoj Aggarwal, Additional Chief Secretary, Health, Gujarat, said.

In Maharashtra, the 33-year-old, who is unvaccinated, arrived in Mumbai on November 24 from Cape Town through Dubai and Delhi.

‘S gene dropout’

Madhavi Joshi of the Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre, which tested the 72-year-old’s genome sample, stated that the Omicron variant was confirmed and it had the ‘S gene dropout.’

The S gene is a spike protein gene, and the use of a particular RT-PCR test called Taqpath returns a ‘negative’. It is useful to quickly screen for a suspected case of Omicron but only a genome sequencing exercise can actually confirm the variant.

The Mumbai person, a resident of the Kalyan-Dombivali Municipal Corporation, is unvaccinated. On November 24, he had a mild fever. However, no other symptoms were observed and he is being treated at the COVID-19 Care Centre in Kalyan-Dombivali. Thirty-five of his contacts have been traced and all tested negative for COVID-19.


Two Karnataka cases

Earlier this week, two persons in Karnataka, one a South African national and the other, an Indian doctor with no recent international travel history, have been confirmed with the Omicron variant . The State government is investigating some of their primary and secondary contacts, and though some have turned up positive, it isn’t confirmed if they too carry Omicron.

Also read | South African man left hotel for Dubai before genome sequencing results

India is a part of a list of at least 30 countries where the variant has been detected though so far, the evidence doesn’t suggest it to be more lethal than the Delta variant. However, the sharp rise in cases in South Africa and the significant number of mutations it bore that potentially gave it a growth advantage are what prompted the World Health Organisation (WHO) to label it a Variant of Concern within days of it being reported by the South African medical authorities.

9,000 cases a day

India currently reports around 9,000 coronavirus cases a day, with the bulk of them being reported out of Kerala. INSACOG (Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium),which is in charge of testing a portion of positive samples to ascertain their genomes, in an update on Monday underlined that most of the cases being detected in India were of the Delta variant and its associated sub-lineages.

But the emergence of Omicron is unsurprising, as global travel to many countries has eased in recent months, including in and out of India, though with the advent of Omicron, the country has again imposed restrictions, with strict screenings mandated for those travelling from “at-risk” countries.

Experts have noted that it was unsurprising that a variant as infectious as Omicron had been located in India and there was no reason to believe that it would only be found in those who’ve recently travelled abroad, as the case of the Indian doctor attests to.

Directive to six States

The Union Health Ministry on Saturday directed Mizoram, Odisha, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Jammu and Kashmir and Kerala to heighten surveillance in “light of the emergence of Omicron.” They have been singled out either for a high caseload or some of their districts exhibiting a high positivity rate. They’ve been told to increase surveillance of international travellers, continue monitoring of emerging hotspots, prompt & comprehensive contact tracing of positive individuals and follow-up for 14 days, send all positive samples for genome sequencing quickly to INSACOG labs, identify early cases through adequate testing and review health infrastructure preparedness (including in rural areas and for paediatric cases).

At a press conference on Thursday, Ministry officials said that while more information on Omicron was awaited, Indians would be best advised to complete their vaccination schedule and continue following COVID-19 appropriate behaviour.

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