Avoid mass gatherings, wear masks: Govt as India reports Omicron cases

Karnataka reported two cases of the Omicron variant — a 66-year-old man with a travel history to South Africa, and a 46-year-old Bengaluru resident.
A woman sitting at a table while consulting with healthcare workers in blue PPE suits
A woman sitting at a table while consulting with healthcare workers in blue PPE suits
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The Union government has asked people to remain cautious and not delay getting vaccinated with both doses as India reported its first two cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus. The government, while asking people not to panic, asked citizens to maintain COVID-19 appropriate behaviour and avoid mass gatherings to ensure they remain protected against the virus.

"We need not panic about Omicron detection but awareness is absolutely essential. Follow COVID-appropriate behaviour and avoid gatherings," Director General of the Indian Centre for Medical Research (ICMR) Dr Balram Bhargav said, adding that increased COVID-19 vaccine uptake was the need of the hour. He also urged the public to get inoculated with both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine without delay.

On Thursday, December 2, the Union Health Ministry announced that the first cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus were detected in Karnataka. Two men — a 66-year-old with travel history to South Africa, who has left India, and a 46-year-old doctor from Bengaluru — were found to have been infected with the variant. The 66-year-old who had been to South Africa was asymptomatic, and all of his primary and secondary contacts tested negative for the coronavirus. The doctor, meanwhile, has no travel history. He reported mild symptoms and was discharged after being hospitalised for three days, and five of his contacts tested positive. Their samples have been sent for further testing. Both the patients were under isolation and the state government was active in tracking the situation, Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar told the media.

"It is too early to assess whether Omicron causes more severe infection or less compared to other variants, including Delta," the Union government told the media on Thursday, quoting the World Health Organisation which has designated the latest variant as a 'variant of concern'. The South East Asian region, including India, has only 3.1 per cent of the world's COVID-19 cases in the last one week.

About vaccine coverage, the government said 84.3% of the adult population in India got the first dose while 49% got the second dose. Kerala and Maharashtra have over 10,000 active COVID-19 cases while nine states and Union Territories have active cases between 1,000 and 10,000. The weekly COVID-19 positivity rate was over 10 per cent in 15 districts and between 5 and 10 per cent in 18 districts, the government said.

On the detection of the Omicron variant in India, Poonam Khetrapal Singh, the regional director of WHO South-East Asia, said, "It was not unexpected given the interconnected world that we live in. This emphasizes the need for all countries to step up surveillance, be on alert, rapidly detect any importation and take measures to curtail further spread of the virus."

The response measures for all variants of SARS-CoV-2, including Omicron, are the same. Comprehensive and tailored public health and social measures by governments and strict adherence to precautionary steps by individuals is a must, she added.

With PTI inputs

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