NEW DELHI: On a day when two more cases of the Omnicron variant of corona virus were confirmed in India, the Centre raised alarm over the rising infections in several districts in at least six states, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, and asked them to step up surveillance and infection containment measures.
The latest Omnicron positive persons in India are a 72-year-old man in Jamnagar, Gujarat, who had just returned from Zimbabwe, and another returnee from Africa in Dombivali, Maharashtra.
The detections come after two men in Karnataka, including a doctor with no history of recent international travel, were confirmed on Thursday to have contracted the variant.
Sources in the union health ministry said nearly 50 people in states such as Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, are under the scanner for being infected with the highly mutated variant even though most of them are showing only very mild Covid-19 symptoms.
So far, nearly 675 cases of the Omnicron with nearly 50 mutations from the earliest version of SARS CoV 2, have been confirmed globally from about 38 countries, including India.
The World Health Organisation has, however, said it could take a few weeks to establish whether Omicron is more transmissible and whether it causes more severe infection as well as how effective available treatments and vaccines are against it.
But the new variant has already cast doubts over the world’s recovery from the pandemic, especially as news from the Gauteng province in South Africa, where the variant was first detected on November 25, has reported worrying surges in cases and hospitalisation, sending the world into a tizzy.
Meanwhile, in letters to select states, union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan on Saturday underlined that required necessary steps to control the spread of infection and reduce fatality need to be taken.
“All states have been advised to undertake enhanced surveillance of international travelers, continued monitoring of emerging hotspots, prompt and comprehensive contact tracing of positive individuals and follow up of 14 days, sending all positive samples for genome sequencing quickly to INSACOG labs,” Bhushan said.
Districts of concern
- Karnataka: Tumakuru, Dharwad, Bengaluru urban, Mysuru
- Tamil Nadu: Vellore, Thiruvallur, Chennai
- Kerala: Thrissur, Malappuram, Kozhikode, Kollam
- Odisha: Dhenkanal, Kandhamal, Nabarangpur, Kendujhar, Anugul, Balangir
- Jammu and Kashmir: Kathua, Jammu, Ganderbal, Baramulla
- Mizoram: Saiha, Khawzawl, Serchhip and Mamit
Omicron less virulent: Study
A new analysis carried out by scientists from the US and India has endorsed the understanding that the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus may be a part of evolutionary process to make it more transmissible but less virulent, so that it is more amenable to human hosts.
The analysis titled “Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 harbours a unique insertion mutation of putative viral or human genomic origin” has found that the virus has a mutation often seen in common cold viruses.
The research underlines that viruses are using human cells and human DNA to perform “genetic recombination” and evolve traits that may let them reside for longer within host cells, replicate more or transmit more.
This insertion, researchers believe, may be a sign of Omicron being more amenable to the human host, an indication of greater transmission potential, likely via immune-evasion, as the insertion region is a known T-cell epitope on the spike protein.
They say that usually, when such a transmission advantage is gained during the course of evolutionary competition amidst other circulating strains, the virus loses virulence, a theory proposed also by several other virologists.
The emergence and detection of Omicron has given rise to concerns of a reboot of Covid pandemic, at a time when the world was looking forward to return to normalcy, especially since the variant has shown signs of unprecedented transmissibility and suspected immune escape.
The variant was first detected and reported in South Africa on November 25 but it has now emerged that it may already be circulating in many parts of the world.
The World Health Organisation, while declaring Omicron as a variant of concern, has announced that it may take several weeks to conclude the exact rate of transmissibility.