Omicron count jumps to 21, experts stress on screening
As the number of cases of Omicron variant of Sars-Cov-2 continued to grow in India with at least four new clusters — two in Maharashtra and one each in Rajasthan and Delhi — emerging in the country on Sunday, experts stressed on the need for aggressive screening and contact tracing of all such cases to prevent the domestic spread of the highly mutated variant.
On Sunday, 17 new cases of the newly identified variant were confirmed by genome sequencing across the country, taking the total number of such infections in India to 21.
Of these, the biggest cluster was located in Jaipur, where nine people who were confirmed to have been infected with Omicron — this included four members of a family who had recently returned from South Africa, and five of their relatives, state officials said.
The second major Omicron cluster detected on Sunday was situated in Pimpri-Chinchwad, on the outskirts of Pune, where seven people were found infected with the Omicron variant. This includes a 44-year-old Nigerian national of Indian origin, her two daughters, her brother, and his two daughters, officials said.
Other than these two, clusters consisting of a standalone infection each were detected on Sunday in Pune and Delhi. The infection in Pune was a reported in a 47-year-old-man travelled to Finland last month, while the case in Delhi had a travel history to Tanzania, state officials said.
This has taken the number of cases of the new in the country to 21.
Experts, meanwhile, stressed that the strictness of how authorities handle the way cases are traced, tracked, and isolated, will go on to form a crucial part that will define the efforts to contain the spread and the possibility of more clusters emerging.
“Covid19 appropriate behaviour is now more pertinent, with the emergence of this variant. And as the source of this variant is from outside the country, the need is to ensure effective screening. As of now, the possibility of having more Omicron clusters is not very high,” said Dr Sudheer Bhandari, principal of SMS Medical College in Jaipur.
“How many people will be infected, and how many will need hospitalisation and how many will succumb to the infection will depend on the nature and status of individual immunity and how much we as a community will adhere to the Covid protocols. Even if the percentage of affected people or complications might be low; with increased transmission - the absolute numbers could be overwhelming,” said Dr Anup R Warrier, head, Infectious Diseases and Infection Control, Aster DM Healthcare’s India Units.
In Maharashtra, health minister Rajesh Tope stressed on the need for increasing vaccination coverage. “However, there is no cause for panic, as feedback about Omicron from South Africa, opinions of experts, and the study of this variant, indicates that it has mild symptoms, but high transmissibility,” he said, adding that in South Africa, there were no reports of any high need for hospitalisation, ICU admissions or death rate.
To be sure, neither of those characteristics are still confirmed and scientists are carrying out studies to establish whether the variant is more transmissible, resistant or virulent.