The Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa on November 23 (Representative image)
The first two cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus have been detected in India, the Union Health Ministry said on December 2.
Both the infections were reported from Karnataka, with the patients being identified as 66-year-old and 46-year-old males. All their primary and secondary contacts have been traced and are being tested, Union Health Ministry's Joint Secretary Lav Agrawal said at a press briefing.
Both the patients were diagnosed with "mild symptoms", and "all their contacts have been identified and they are under monitoring. The protocol is being followed," Agrawal said.
Karnataka health officials claimed that five among the contacts of the 46-year-old infected patient have tested COVID-19 positive. However, it was yet to determined whether they have been infected with the Omicron variant.
While the Karnataka government did not reveal their names to maintain privacy, state Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar said the 66-year-old patient infected with Omicron variant was a South African national who has "now gone back". The 46-year-old patient is a doctor who has no travel history, the minister said, adding both of them were fully vaccinated.
"Out of his (doctor's) primary and secondary contact, 5 people tested positive for COVID-19. So a total of six people have been isolated, admitted to govt hospital. None of them showing any serious symptoms. All these people are fully vaccinated," Dr Sudhakar added.
Dr Balram Bhargava, Director General of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said there is "no need to panic" over the detection of Omicron cases. "But awareness is absolutely essential. COVID-apt behaviour is required," he noted, adding that vaccinated citizens who are yet to take their second dose should opt for timely inoculation.
The two cases in Karnataka, Dr Bhargava further said, were detected "through genome sequencing effort of INSACOG consortium of 37 laboratories established by the Ministry of Health".
Niti Aayog member (health) Dr VK Paul maintained that the COVID-19 situation in India is "well under control" despite the risks posed by Omicron. "There will be no drastic curbs any time soon," said Dr Paul, who heads the Centre's COVID-19 task force.
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Karnataka Chief Minister Basavraj Bommai, while speaking at the News18 Chaupal event, said inbound passengers should only arrive if they are "healthy".
"If anyone coming from abroad, they should come healthy for the sake of safety of other people" apart from themselves, Bommai said.
Omicron, technically referred to as COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, was first detected in South Africa on November 23. It subsequently triggered a global alarm, as scientists pointed that the variant is heavily mutated. This means that it may evade the immunity generated through antibodies and vaccines. However, there is no evidence yet to prove that it will be more contagious.
The World Health Organisation had, on November 26, categorised Omicron as a "variant of concern".
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In view of the emerging risk, several governments across the world decided to partially shut their borders, delay the resumption of international commercial flights and ramp up the testing and tracing mechanism.
In India, passengers arriving from at-risk countries would be required to undergo RT-PCR tests at the airports. If found COVID-19 positive, they would be sent for treatment under the clinical management protocol. In case of a negative test report, they would be asked to remain under self-quarantine for seven days.
The list of "at-risk" countries includes European nations, the UK, South Africa, Brazil, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel.