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Omicron updates: Scientist projects third wave to hit India by February, may be milder than second
India has so far reported 23 cases of the Omicron variant, including 17 on Sunday- nine persons from Rajasthan capital Jaipur, seven in Maharashtra's Pune district and a fully vaccinated man who arrived in Delhi from Tanzania.
COVID-19 Cases in India: India recorded 8,306 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, as per the data from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) on Monday. According to the data, India's active caseload currently stands at 98,416.
Though the active case load was lowest in 552 days, Omicron, a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, has caught the attention of the government as the World Health Organisation (WHO) has termed it as a variant of concern.
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Here are the major developments related to Omicron in varoius states on Monday:
8.45 PM: According to a PTI report, the Delhi government is closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation arisen out of the Omicron variant. Quoting Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain, the report said there is no possibility of lockdown in the national capital.
The minister said that Delhi government authorities are "testing all people coming from the countries affected by the Omicron variant", and cautioned that this variant is far more transmissible than the Delta variant, adding the situation is being "closely monitored".
The city government has already put in place a "graded response action plan", and it will be implemented accordingly, as and when the cases and positivity rate rise, the minister added.
So far, a total of 27 people have been sent to LNJP Hospital, out of which 17 were found Covid-positive, and only one person has been confirmed to have been inflected with Omicron variant, and investigation is on to trace others, if any.
The rest 10 people, who tested negative are those who came into close contact of people found Covid positive.
8.35 PM: Maharashtra government has slashed the price of a Covid-19 RT-PCR test. If a person visits a laboratory for giving samples, the cost of the test has come down to Rs 350 from the earlier Rs 500. In case, the samples are collected from home, the revised cost is Rs 700 against the earlier price of Rs 800 per test.
8.00 PM: According to a PTI report, the Government of Tamil Nadu has set up special wards in public sector hospitals and enhanced surveillance and testing to tackle the challenge of Omicron. The variant has not been detected in the state so far.
Out of the 5,858 people who arrived in Tamil Nadu in the past about one week, including 5,249 from 11 high risk countries, six were found to be infected with the Delta plus variant.
For re-confirmation, the samples of these six people have been sent to the Bengaluru based Institute for Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine (inStem) and results are awaited, the report added.
According to the government, Tamil Nadu has achieved a vaccination coverage of 80.44 per cent as regards the first dose and 47.46 in respect of the second.
7.50 PM: According to a PTI report, the Maharashtra government has said that it is closely monitoring the prevailing coronavirus situation and any decision on reimposing restrictions in the state will be taken only after seeking the Centre's guidance and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray's views, State Health Minister Rajesh Tope said.
7.42 PM: According to news agency ANI, two more cases of Omicron variant of coronavirus were reported in Maharashtra. Quoting Maharashtra government, a tweet by ANI said a 37-year-old South Africa returnee man and his 36-year-old US returnee friend, have been confirmed with the infection taking the total number of the cases to 10 in the state.
6.15 PM: According to a PTI report, the third wave of coronavirus could hit the peak by February with cases likely to be reaching up to 1-1.5 lakh a day due to Omicron, the new variant of SARS-CoV2. However, as per Manindra Agarwal, IIT scientist involved in the mathematical projection of trajectory of COVID-19, it will be milder than the second wave.
“With the new variant, our current forecast is that the country could see the third wave by February but it will be milder than the second wave. So far we have seen that the severity of Omicron is not like the one seen in the Delta variant,” Agarwal told PTI.
He, however, said a close eye is being kept on cases in South Africa where many cases of this variant have been recorded. Agarwal added that as of now South Africa has not seen a rise in hospitalisation.
He further said a fresh set of data on the virus and hospitalisations would help in getting a more solid picture.
“It looks like although the new variant has shown high transmissibility, its severity is not like the one seen in the Delta variant,” Agarwal told PTI.
He said as observed during the spread of delta, a mild lockdown (night curfew, restrictions on crowding) can bring down beta substantially. That will significantly reduce the peak value, he added.
The Department of Science and Technology (DST) backed Sutra-model had earlier said the third wave of coronavirus could hit the country by October if a new variant, more virulent and transmissible than the Delta, emerges.
However, till November end, there was no new variant. It had then revised its forecast to November.
5.35 PM: According to an IANS report, 246 samples of returnees from at-risk countries in Odisha were sent to the Institute of Life Sciences (ILS), Bhubaneswar for genome sequencing.
Quoting sources, the IANS report said that over 800 persons returned to the state from foreign countries since the detection of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
"We have received 246 samples of the foreign returnees from different districts for genome sequencing to ascertain the presence of Omicron variant. All these persons were found Covid positive during the RT-PCR test. The results will be known in the next two or three days," Ajay Parida, Director, ILS said.
Earlier, genome sequencing of 141 samples of foreign returnees was conducted. However, fortunately, not a single sample was found to be an Omicron variant, he added.
As per protocol, Parida said, another round of RT-PCR test of the samples will be conducted before carrying out the genome sequencing. The samples whose CT value is less than 28 will be picked for genome sequencing, he said.
Odisha Health Minister Naba Kishore Das said there is no need to panic and the state government is monitoring the situation closely. "The WHO is conducting a study on the new variant and very soon the effectiveness of our vaccines against the variant will be known," Das said.
Meanwhile, health department officials informed that about 320 returnees, nearly 40 per cent of the total arrivals, are untraceable. As these returnees have submitted wrong addresses and contact information in the Air Suvidha portal, the government is unable to trace them, the officials said.
Public Health Director Niranjan Mishra said: "Information provided by the Centre on foreign returnees is being shared with the district administrations and accordingly, testing and tracing are being conducted."
He appealed to the people who have returned from at-risk countries to undergo RT-PCR test for the safety and well-being of their families.
4.52 PM: As per a PTI report, amid the scare from the Omicron variant of COVID-19, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar on Monday said there is need to take a decision at the national level on whether a booster dose of the vaccine is required to curb the pandemic.
Speaking after paying tribute to legendary social reformer Babasaheb Ambedkar at Chaityabhoomi in Dadar here, he said information available showed that those who had taken both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had also got infected with the Omicron variant.
"Is booster dose required then? We have doses available today. There is a need to take a decision at the national level in this regard I think. There are different opinions about it. So, it should be told why it needs to be given or why it shouldn't. Only experts who have researched it (the infection) can talk about it," Pawar said.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and the state administration are keeping a close tab on the current situation, the senior NCP leader said.
"The Centre too should take a strict position on patients coming from abroad in various states. It must be ensured rules are observed strictly at our international airports, he added.
4.48 PM: According to a PTI report, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Monday urged people not to panic in the wake of detection of Omicron variant of COVID-19 in Delhi, but asked them to follow social distancing and use face masks to ward off the disease. The situation emerging after the detection of corona variant was being monitored closely by him, and adequate arrangement of all the requirements like beds and medicines will be made available, the chief minister said in a briefing.
" Omicron has entered the country and its cases have been found at many places including Delhi. I want to appeal the people not to panic and maintain social distancing and use face mask," he said.
Delhi reported first case of Omicron on Sunday. A 37-year-old fully vaccinated man who arrived in Delhi from Tanzania was tested positive for Omicron.
Kejriwal has demanded the Central government to stop international flights to prevent the spread of Omicron in the country.
The country reported the first two cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 on Thursday in Karnataka -- a 66-year-old South African flyer and a 46-year-old Bengaluru doctor with no travel history. Both men were fully vaccinated.
All COVID-positive international travellers reaching Delhi are being admitted to the LNJP Hospital, where a dedicated ward has been set up for isolating and treating them.
4.35 PM: As per a PTI report, Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia has directed Delhi airport operator DIAL to implement better crowd management strategies after passengers complained of chaos and crowding at its terminal following the implementation of new coronavirus-related travel guidelines.
Quoting senior government officials, the PTI report said that minister called a meeting on Monday with officials of the Airports Authority of India, Bureau of Immigration and GMR group-led Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL).
Officials of Genestrings Diagnostics, the sole laboratory that does RT-PCR testing at the Delhi airport, were also present at the meeting.
At the meeting, the minister directed the DIAL to implement better crowd management strategies, officials noted.
Amid concerns over the Omicron variant of coronavirus, the Centre had issued a revised guideline for international travellers which came into effect on December 1.
Commenting on a tweet about the situation at the Delhi airport after the new travel rules kicked in, Congress MP Karti Chidambaram had said on Saturday: "As I feared and warned. Total confusion and crowding in airports."
Sharing pictures of long queues at the Delhi airport, another Twitter user had said on Friday, "Taxes paid, airport charges paid. Huge rush but available resources are not being utilised. For one hour of flight approx three hours need to be spent in queue for processes to be completed."
The DIAL had said on Saturday that 20 dedicated counters have been set up for the passengers arriving from "at-risk" countries and having pre-booked their mandatory COVID-19 test.
According to the Union Health Ministry's guidelines issued on November 30, all passengers coming from "at-risk" countries have to compulsorily undergo RT-PCR test and two per cent of passengers arriving from other countries would also have to take the test on a random basis.
The passengers will have to wait for the results before leaving the airport or taking a connecting flight, according to the guidelines.
Countries in Europe, including the UK, and South Africa, Brazil, Botswana, China, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore and Israel have been placed in the "at-risk" category by the Union Health Ministry.
At the Delhi airport, rapid PCR test costs a passenger Rs 3,500 but the results come in 60-90 minutes. RT-PCR costs a passenger Rs 500 and the results come in around six hours. A passenger coming from an "at-risk" country can choose either of the tests at the Delhi airport.
3.15 PM: As per an earlier ANI report, the central government has made RT-PCR mandatory for all travellers from “at-risk” countries. As for the travellers from other countries, five per cent of incoming passengers will be tested for COVID-19 on arrival. Those found positive will have to undergo the COVID-19 treatment protocol.
2.09 PM: The number of people suspected to have been infected with the Omicron Covid variant in Delhi has increased to 27, of which 17 of them have tested positive for the virus, Health Minister Satyendar Jain informed IANS on Monday.
"A total of 27 Omicron suspects coming through various flights from abroad are currently admitted in the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) Hospital," he said, adding that out of the total suspects, 17 have tested positive for Covid and the remaining 10 are their contacts.
"All have been admitted in the LNJP hospital... It is our endeavor to prevent the spread of Omicron in any way from international arrivals landing at airport."
Talking about the preventive measures, Jain underlined the mandatory use of masks and to maintain Covid appropriate behaviour in an effort to prevent the third wave of the pandemic.
"Our graded response action plan is ready, as the cases increase or the positivity increases, we will implement it," Jain said while urging people to take the second dose of vaccines if they are due.
The capital city has reported one Omicron case so far. The infected person had travelled from Tanzania. However, 17 cases of the variant were detected across the nation on Sunday alone, which increased the overall total to 21 in India since the outbreak of Omicron was first reported in South Africa.
Jain emphasized on the need to stop the flights coming from abroad, adding that Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has appealed to the Centre to do so. The same negligence was seen during the second wave, he added.
1.55 PM: As per a PTI report, with fresh COVID concerns, Karnataka Chief Minister Basvaraj Bommai on Monday said the government is closely monitoring the situation in the state and will take decisions on enforcing further containment measures after consulting the experts.
In the wake of two cases of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus being detected in the state, and fresh COVID clusters emerging, the Karnataka government on Friday had announced certain preventive measures that included compulsory two dose vaccination for entering malls, cinema halls or theatres, and for parents of school or college going students.
"All the advices will be placed before the expert committee, depending on the Omicron and Delta variants spread in the coming days and clusters that are emerging, we will get the opinion of the experts, and take an appropriate decision," Bommai said in response to a question on suggestions regarding imposing restrictions on entry to malls and cinema halls to 50 per cent capacity.
Speaking to reporters in Hubballi, in response to a question, he said, all the primary and secondary contacts of the Bengaluru doctor who has tested positive for Omicron have been identified, all of them are asymptomatic, genomic sequencing reports of couple of his contacts who have tested positive for COVID is awaited.
Earlier in the day, noting that clusters were emerging in Karnataka, especially in hostels and among students, the Chief Minister speaking to reporters in Bidar said, the government has given guidelines for cluster management.
"In Chikkamagaluru yesterday, a cluster has emerged (at a residential school), all students have been checked, their primary and secondary contacts have also been tested and it (school) has been sealed down. We are providing treatment to those infected," he said, adding that the government is prepared in every way, and is gathering timely information from experts regarding the spread and effects of the infection, and accordingly preparations are on to provide treatment.
At least 69 people, mostly students of Jawahar Navodaya School at Seegodu in Chikkamagaluru district have been infected by Covid-19, official sources said.
Meanwhile, speaking to reporters in Bengaluru, Health Minister K Sudhakar in response to a question, downplayed the threats of the possible third wave of COVID-19.
"If you see historically during any pandemics, usually the second wave will be of large scale, third wave are generally less, this is the historical evidence. Historically, the second wave is more intense than the first wave, and in case there is a third or fourth wave, its intensity will be less and it will die out," he said.
He also said that according to experts, the effects of the virus on children are very low, and it was seen even during the delta variant also.
Further, noting that the genomic sequencing reports of couple of contacts of the city Doctor tested for Omicron is still awaited, the Minister said, "once it comes, it will be made know, reports of two are awaited, but they don't have any symptoms, they are undergoing treatment at Bowring Hospital here, and there are no issues. All his contacts had taken two doses of vaccination."
Stating that there is no need to worry more regarding the Omicron variant, Sudhakar said, we have faced the more virulent Delta variant, compared to it the new variant is only fast in its spread, but does not seem to be intense, so far.
"No need to worry, but precaution is necessary with vaccination and other required measures," he said, adding that "more than 93 per cent people have taken the first dose, while 64 per cent have taken the second dose in the state. We are third among large states in the country. We have to strive to complete the vaccination by December-end. There is over 70 lakh vaccine stock with us."
12.37 PM: As per a PTI report, With COVID-19 cases rising among students in various schools and colleges, Karnataka Primary and Secondary Education Minister B C Nagesh said the government will not backtrack from stopping exams and schools if situation arises, as per PTI. He, however, maintained that the experts were of the opinion that there was no problem in holding regular off-line classes.
"We will not backtrack if a need arises to stop exams and schools. However, in the present situation, all the experts are of the opinion that there is no problem," Nagesh told reporters here.
The minister said the government was closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation on an hourly basis. He added that the government will make alternative arrangements with a view to avoid any problem.
"If required we will stop exams. However, the Standard Operating Procedure is maintained very strictly in the exams because we make sitting arrangements maintaining physical distance," Nagesh said.
The Minister asked people not to panic as it will impact the academic activities of children. "There is no need for people to panic because this year we started regular schools after a year of lockdown. In case schools are shut again then it will be difficult to bring back children to the classes," Nagesh said.
He, however, assured parents that the education department will take stringent measures in case it is felt that the COVID-19 situation is going to impact children's health. The statement came amid rising COVID cases emerging among students. A large number of students and staff of a medical college in Hubballi-Dharwad tested positive for COVID-19. The pandemic clusters emerged among students of residential schools in Bengaluru rural, Mysuru and Chikkamagaluru. Sources said there was a protest by students in an autonomous college in Bengaluru on Monday morning following reports about COVID-19 outbreak in the students' hostel.
11.04 AM: As per an IANS report, the Karnataka health department is awaiting the genome sequencing test results of five persons who came in contact with a doctor infected with the Omicron Covid variant. The results are expected to arrive on Monday. The state is also seeking the approval of the Centre to conduct genome sequencing tests in four additional labs for quicker results. The doctor had tested positive for Covid-19 on November 22 and his sample was sent for genome sequencing two days later. On December 2, the Central government announced that the doctor was infected with the Omicron variant, sending the Karnataka health department into jitters. The authorities have tracked the doctor`s 13 primary and 205 secondary contacts and tested them. His wife, daughter, two of his colleagues and another have tested positive for Covid-19 and their swab samples have been sent for genome sequencing. All of them are being treated at a designated hospital. The health condition of these persons, including the doctor, is normal and all of them have recovered from symptoms and are doing well. The state government has brought in strict measures after detection of the country`s first two Omicron cases in Bengaluru. The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has already issued a circular following the government`s instructions regarding a mandatory two-dose vaccination for entry into shopping complexes, malls, cinema halls, theatres. The management of commercial establishments are being given the task of screening customers before entry. BBMP marshals and health officials have been directed to conduct checks without intimation. The BBMP has also warned of slapping cases under the Disaster Management Act 2005 and other legal provisions, if there were any violations. On the other hand, the government has decided to go aggressively on vaccination front in the state. As per the latest figures of the Union government`s Co-Win Dashboard till 7 a.m. on Monday, more than 7.33 crore vaccines have been administered.
A minimum of 30 samples are sent everyday for genome sequencing to keep a tab on the spread of the Omicron variant in the state. Presently, only two labs in the state -- National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) and NIMHANS -- have approval from the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) to conduct genome sequencing. Considering the inflow of international travellers and samples collected from the community, the burden will be more on conducting Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS). The state government has already procured equipment for four labs at Hassan, Belagavi, Mysuru and Atal Bihari Vajpayee Medical College in Bengaluru and is awaiting the approval of INSACOG. The equipment has already been installed and staff is also trained. Apart from this, the state is also seeking the Centre`s nod to recognise test results of private hospital labs where the facility is available. As per the present rule, the state cannot send samples for WGS to private labs.
10.45 AM: An IANS report states that sixteen districts in Karnataka have seen a rise in the number of new Covid cases in the first week of December. As many as 500 students have tested positive in the recent past, causing a major worry for the authorities. Sources in the health department said that if the same trend continued then restrictions may be put during the New Year and Christmas celebrations. By November first week the Covid cases were on a decline and many districts, including those bordering Maharashtra, recorded zero cases paving the way for lifting of restrictions completely. However, the state government has again come up with restrictions to tackle the situation. According to the health and family welfare department, Kodagu, Haveri, Chikkaballapura, Mandya, Mysuru, Davanagere and Uttara Kannada districts recorded higher numbers of Covid cases. Other districts have recorded very low or single digit Covid cases. But, the Covid cases are rising in all districts where the situation was under total control, and the increase is four-fold.Between November 26 and December 3, when compared to last week (November 18 to 25) 2,202 cases were reported against 1,835 cases. The number of Covid cases stood at 1,588 from November 12-19. There is a 25 per cent spike in the cases in the last 15 days according to the statistics available with the health department. Shivamogga and Koppal districts have seen a four fold spike. Shivamogga reported 28 Covid cases between November 18- 25. It rose to 86 from November 26 to December 3 registering a 430 per cent hike. Similarly Koppal, which recorded zero cases till November 25-18, registered four cases between November 26 to December 3. The Covid cases rose to 1,167 from 995 in Bengaluru Urban in the same period. Sources in the health department said that Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has stated that there was no agenda before the government to impose restrictions on activities and celebrations. However, he has stated that an appropriate decision will be taken in the coming days after analysing the situation in the state.
10.30 AM: As per an IANS report, the Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Sunday reviewed the RT-PCR testing facilities for passengers coming from abroad at the IGI airport. A total of 35 rapid RT-PCR testing machines are functional and with this the passengers screening and testing time will be reduced to even 30 minutes for the passengers coming from the abroad. Meanwhile, India has achieved the fully vaccination of over 50 per cent of the eligible population. The Health Minister in a tweet said, "Congratulations India. It is a moment of great pride as over 50 per cent of the eligible population is now fully vaccinated. We will win the battle against Covid-19 together".
There have been 8,834 recoveries in the last 24 hours increasing the total recoveries to 3,40,69,608. India's active caseload stands at 98,416 which is the lowest in 552 days. The active cases account for less than 1 per cent of the total cases.
On the vaccination frontier, the country has administered 127.93 crore vaccine doses so far under Nationwide Vaccination Drive. The recovery rate currently stands at 98.35 per cent, which is the highest since March 2020.
The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24th November 2021. The epidemiological situation in SouthAfrica has been characterized by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the latest of which was predominantly the Delta variant.
It has to be noted that India's COVID-19 tally had crossed the 20-lakh mark on August 7, 2020, 30 lakhs on August 23, 40 lakhs on September 5 and 50 lakhs on September 16. It went past 60 lakhs on September 28, 70 lakhs on October 11, crossed 80 lakhs on October 29, 90 lakhs on November 20 and surpassed the one-crore mark on December 19. India crossed the grim milestone of two crore on May 4 and three crores on June 2.
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