Indian doctor with no travel history tests positive for omicron: ‘This may be everywhere already’

India’s health ministry says omicron might not hit the country so hard after its high exposure to the delta variant

Namita Singh
Friday 03 December 2021 11:52

Experts say rise of omicron variant due to vaccine inequality

A 46-year-old Indian doctor with no travel history is among the two people who have tested positive for the omicron variant in the country, sparking concerns over possible community spread.

The other person who tested positive for the new variant is a 66-year-old South African national who has already left India, federal health authorities said on Thursday.

Both the patients tested positive in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

The state’s health minister K Sudhakar shared details about the medical practitioner with reporters.

“The 46-year-old man who tested positive in Bengaluru is a medical doctor. He complained of tiredness, body ache and mild fever after which he voluntarily got himself tested and home isolated,” Dr Sudhakar said.

“His reports came positive but had a low CT (Cycle Threshold) value, indicating high virus load. We sent it for genome sequencing and it was confirmed to be omicron,” he added.

Gaurav Gupta, the commissioner for Bengaluru’s civic and administrative body, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), said the doctor’s three primary and two secondary contacts also tested positive for Covid.

All of them are isolating in a government hospital and have mild symptoms, said the health minister.

Elaborating on the South African national, Dr Sudhakar said he was asymptomatic when he arrived at the country on 20 November. The 66-year-old had tested positive after his samples were obtained at the airport. The samples were sent for genome sequencing and returned a positive result on 2 December.

“He was in a private hotel. He tested negative on 23 November (and) returned to South Africa on 27 November,” said Dr Sudhakar.

Officials suspect the doctor contracted the infection during a medical conference he attended at a five-star hotel in Bengaluru on 20 November, following which he developed the symptoms, reported The Times of India, citing BBMP sources.

“Four doctors from the hospital who attended the conference tested positive, three with delta variant and one omicron,” the BBMP official told the paper.

Officials, including those at the federal level, pointed out the need to take precautions and avoid panic after news of the two omicron cases emerged on Thursday.

Mr Gupta emphasised the need to follow the coronavirus guidelines in the wake of omicron variant.

“As this person has no travel history, there are chances that this may be everywhere already. We have to be careful but not panic. It is necessary for the public to wear masks and get themselves vaccinated,” he told the New Indian Express.

Meanwhile, India’s federal health ministry has attempted to dispel the panic surrounding the new variant, saying the severity of the disease from the omicron variant may be blunted in the country because of prior vaccination and high exposure to the delta variant that had infected nearly 70 per cent of the population by July.

“Given the fast pace of vaccination in India and high exposure to delta variant as evidenced by high seropositivity, the severity of the disease is anticipated to be low,” the ministry said in a statement.

“However, scientific evidence is still evolving.”

The ministry told parliament that its immunisation experts are weighing the need for booster doses, after many lawmakers demanded a third jab for healthcare workers and the vulnerable. It said experts are discussing vaccinating children and teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 years.

Daily cases in India have plateaued to about 10,000 in the last few weeks, after the country suffered a debilitating second wave in April and May with the emergence of the delta variant. The country reported a peak of over 400,000 cases in late April.

India’s total tally of Covid infections during the pandemic is 36.62 million. With 391 deaths recorded on Friday, the total toll rose to 470,115, though experts generally consider this to be an understatement.

Additional reporting from the agencies

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