With one of the two persons in Bengaluru who have been detected with the Omicron variant having no travel history, COVID-19 experts here said that the variant could have been introduced to Karnataka much earlier.
Sources said the 46-year-old anaesthetist from a Government hospital in South Bengaluru, who did not have any travel history, had attended a two-day cardiology conference that was held at a five-star hotel near the Chief Minister’s home office from November 19.
“He attended the conference only on November 20 and developed fever on November 21st. How can he get infected within 24 hours? He must have contracted the infection much earlier and can in no way be connected to the conference. Moreover, no foreign nationals had attended the conference,” sources said.
“While nothing can be said now, this only indicates that the variant could have emerged here much earlier,” sources said.
V. Ravi, nodal officer for genomic confirmation of SARS-CoV-2 in Karnataka, told The Hindu on Thursday that the 46-year-old’s case is similar to what was seen during the first wave of COVID-19 in Nanjangud of Mysuru district.
“This case reminds us of the index case of COVID-19, an employee of a pharmaceutical company in Nanjangud of Mysuru district, who tested positive on March 26, 2020. This person later became a superspreader during the first wave. He did not have any travel history but we later learnt that he was a tertiary contact of a person who had come from China,” he said.
“Probably Omicron could have been introduced here much earlier and was detected now. The Netherlands is also telling that the new variant has been circulating there earlier,” said Dr. Ravi, who also heads the State’s Genomic Surveillance Committee.
Mutation is a rule, not exception
Concurring with Dr. Ravi, C.N. Manjunath, nodal officer for labs and testing in the State’s COVID-19 task force, said it is not necessary for a new variant to be imported always.
“Mutation is a rule rather than an exception. Such mutations are bound to happen in many countries and not necessary that it has to be imported always. The new variant could have been here much earlier,” he said.
“As per guidelines in Karnataka, samples that have a high viral load (with a cycle threshold value of less than 15) are being sent for genome sequencing. That is how this person (who does not have a travel history) has been picked up and detected to have been infected with the new variant,” he explained.
U.S. Vishal Rao, member of the State’s Genomic Surveillance Committee, said all COVID-19 variants, including the dominant Delta variant, can cause severe disease or death, more so in the case of most vulnerable people.
“Thus, prevention continues to be the principal counter measure. This is a wakeup call reminding us that the war against COVID-19 is far from over. Vaccine passport coupled with COVID appropriate behavior — mask, ventilation, social distancing, hand hygiene — are still our best bets to keep the virus at bay,” he said.