Omicron, the highly mutated version of the coronavirus, ‘logged’ into the IT city of Bengaluru with two cases, making India the first country in South East Asia to get the new variant.
But the mystery here is that one of the persons who tested positive for Omicron had no travel history, leaving health experts wondering.
While one of the patients is 66 and a South African national, the other is 46-years-old. The 66-year-old has a travel history to Dubai and did not have any contact with the 46-year-old who works in a hospital.
Authorities in Karnataka confirmed that the second patient does not have any travel history. His 218 contacts have been identified and tested, out of which three primary contacts and two secondary contacts have been found positive. These samples have been sent for genome sequencing.
Both tested for Covid on November 11 and 20. The genome sequencing of their samples confirmed the Omicron strain.
According to Joint Secretary of the Union Home Ministry Lav Agarwal, “No severe symptoms of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 have been reported so far. All Omicron related cases are found to have mild symptoms…This is the case across the world. WHO has said that its emerging evidence is being studied,” he told a briefing in Delhi.
Karnataka Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar told the media that the state will step up testing and keep an extra vigil. There is no need to panic, he said. "We are on top of it," he added.
"A big relief is that all the countries where the Omicron virus was detected, the patients had only mild to moderate symptoms," he pointed out.
After two people were found infected with the Omicron, five contacts of one of the patients have tested positive and their samples have been sent for further testing, he said.
Regarding the 46-year-old 'mystery' patient, the minister said he had a breakthrough infection on November 22. By sheer chance, it was decided to conduct a genome sequencing of his samples which had a low viral load – an indication that it took fewer cycles of the test to detect the virus, and so it means there is a high amount of virus present.
It is not immediately clear how the 46-year-old was infected with Omicron. Further investigation is underway, he said.
As regards the 66-year-old, the Minister said that the patient is a South African national who landed in Bengaluru on November 20. He had a negative report and was screened and tested at Bengaluru airport. On November 20, he checked into a hotel, where he tested positive for coronavirus. He was asymptomatic and was advised to isolate at a hotel.
Two days later, his samples were sent for genome sequencing. The patient took a self-investigation test and the report came back negative. 24 primary contacts and 240 secondary contacts have been traced, and all of them have tested negative.
The man checked out on November 27, took a cab to Bengaluru airport and left for Dubai. It was confirmed on December 2, that he had the Omicron variant.
Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP – the civic body) chief Gaurav Gupta told the media both the men were fully vaccinated.
The BBMP chief also said that though some South African health experts have said that the Omicron variant may be more transmissible but less severe, he added that not much is known about it and that the public must exercise caution.
ICMR Director General Dr Balram Bhargav told the media that "There is no need to panic about Omicron, but awareness is absolutely essential. It is important to get fully vaccinated, people should get both doses. Besides, they should follow Covid-19 appropriate behaviour. Mass gatherings should be avoided."
International airports across India have begun intensive screening of arrivals. In line with central guidelines, all passengers arriving from 'at risk' countries (this includes European nations and South Africa, where the Omicron strain was first detected) have to take RT-PCR tests on arrival. The test result has to be negative in order to leave the airport.
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