The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is “spreading rapidly” – there are now 101 cases in 11 states in India – the Health Ministry said Friday, warning that 19 districts were at high risk of a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Faced with the threat of a third wave of infections, the ministry underlined the need to follow Covid-appropriate behavior, including the use of face masks and maintaining social distance. The ministry also urged people to avoid non-essential travel and stay away from large crowds and gatherings.
The ministry then issued a dire threat – that based on the progression of the strain in the UK (which already has over 11,000 Omicron cases), India could see a devastating 14 lakh cases daily.
Renewed warnings of the dangers posed by Omicron come as 10 new cases were reported from Delhi earlier in the day. The city has now 22 confirmed Omicron cases.
The 10 new cases were reported after a worrying spike in overall Covid cases in the city over the previous 24 hours – 85 were detected – up from 57 on Thursday and 45 on Wednesday.
Maharashtra – worst hit by earlier waves of infections – has so far recorded the most Omicron cases – 32. Rajasthan is next with 17, and Karnataka and Telangana have reported eight each. Gujarat, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Bengal, and Andhra Pradesh have also reported cases of the new variant.
A point of worry is that at least two of the Omicron cases reported from Maharashtra were young children – a three-year-old boy and an 18-month-old girl.
The government has already urged states to step up surveillance measures and focus on sequencing positive samples in an effort to identify causes and potential hotspots.
New travel rules were enforced starting December 1, requiring foreign arrivals from countries deemed ‘at risk’ to submit to RT-PCR tests and, in some cases, mandatory quarantine.
The jury is still out on the variant’s vaccine-evasion ability, but medical experts have urged people to ensure they are double-vaccinated and called on governments to offer booster doses.
India has not yet opened booster doses to the fully vaccinated, although there have been calls to do so, including by Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla, whose facility produces Covishield.