With seven countries in the South-East Asia Region confirming cases of new COVID-19 variant Omicron, the World Health Organization on December 18 stressed on urgent scale-up of public health and social measures to curtail its further spread
India’s Omicron COVID count crossed the 100 mark on Friday after recording the highest single day rise of 24 fresh cases of the new variant, even as the Centre advised people to avoid non-essential travel and mass gatherings and keep New Year celebrations at low intensity.
As the Omicron tally from 11 States and union territories stood at 111 exactly 15 days after the first case of the potentially more contagious COVID variant was detected in Karnataka, 20 new cases were reported from Maharashtra(8) and Delhi (12) to take their total to 40 and 22 respectively. Telangana and Kerala recorded two more cases each to take their tally to eight and seven respectively.
You can track coronavirus cases, deaths and testing rates at the national and State levels here. A list of State Helpline numbers is available as well.
Here are the latest developments:
India prioritising second dose until year-end: officials
While about 87% of India’s adults have got at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 56% fully vaccinated, the government’s current priority appears to be increasing the second dose over the first, officials told The Hindu.
With two weeks left for the year-end, the country is still far from its target of vaccinating all adults by that time. – Jacob Koshy
TN urges Centre to issue fresh norms for testing international passengers
Tamil Nadu on Saturday requested the Centre to issue further set of guidelines on testing international passengers arriving in the state after a person from a ‘non-risk country’ tested positive for the Omicron variant of Covid-19 recently, becoming the first such case reported in the state.
Director of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Dr T S Selvavinayagam in his letter to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Secretary Rajesh Bhushan requested that international passengers arriving in Tamil Nadu should undergo mandatory post-arrival testing of Covid-19 as against the current practice of testing only those passengers who arrive from ‘at risk’ countries.
According to him, 28 passengers, who arrived from various overseas destinations till Friday in Tamil Nadu, were detected with ‘s’ gene drop indicating infection of Omicron variant of coronavirus. Of them, only four were from ‘high risk’ countries while the remaining from ‘non-risk countries’.
Selvavinayagam pointed out that as per the current guidelines issued by the Centre, only 11 countries along with the European countries including the United Kingdom were declared as ‘high risk’ and additional surveillance protocol followed for passengers from these countries were being adhered to, but no additional surveillance protocol was being followed for passengers arriving from ‘not at risk countries’.
“All international passengers arriving in Tamil Nadu should undergo mandatory post-arrival testing for Covid-19. If found positive, they will be treated as per existing protocol. They should be allowed to leave the airport to take a transit flight only if they are found negative”, he said in his letter, which was shared with the media on Saturday.
“Only two per cent of passengers from non-risk countries are being randomly tested with RT-PCR and permitted to leave even before the results are declared, thereby increasing chances of missing passengers from non-risk countries infected with Omicron variant of being detected and leading to rapid transmission in the community”, he said.
Traders brace for third wave as Omicron cases rise in Delhi
With the gradual spread of Omicron variant of coronavirus in the national capital, the impact of dwindling number of shoppers is not lost on traders as they get ready to face an impending third wave of the pandemic.
Twelve more people tested positive for the Omicron variant in Delhi on Friday, taking their number to 22, and officials said most of them are “fully vaccinated” and “asymptomatic”.
Sanjay Bhargava, president, Chandni Chowk Vyapar Mandal said they are “waiting and watching” for now, even as they have requested authorities to increase the police presence in the area.
“…we have verbally requested the authorities to increase the number of police personnel in the area who can enforce the Covid protocol among those taking it casually. Mostly hawkers and beggars do not follow any such norms,” he told PTI.
While observing a “visible decrease in footfall”, he said the market association will soon be sending circulars to shopkeepers in the area to enforce Covid protocols.
“We will soon be asking all our traders to enforce Covid protocols in their shops. In the last 10 days, there is visible decrease in footfall in the market. The business is slowing down due to the increasing cases of Omicron in the city,” Bhargava added.
Atul Bhargava, president, National Delhi Traders Association said even though the risk of a crowded and congested area is small in Connaught Place (CP), they have already sent out circulars to all traders.
“We have asked them to strictly adhere to Covid protocols in the shops like sanitising, insisting on wearing masks and taking temperature of people coming in. Since CP is a large and open area, it is not much of a problem. And with police presence, people usually follow Covid protocols,” he said.
Urgent need to scale-up public health, social measures to curtail Omicron spread, says WHO
With seven countries in the South-East Asia Region confirming cases of new COVID-19 variant Omicron, the World Health Organization on December 18 stressed on urgent scale-up of public health and social measures to curtail its further spread.
Countries can and must prevent the spread of Omicron with proven health and social measures, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region, Poonam Khetrapal Singh said.
“Our focus must continue to be to protect the least protected and those at high risk,” she said in a statement. – PTI
16 students of Navi Mumbai school test positive
Sixteen students of a school at Ghansoli in Navi Mumbai have tested positive for coronavirus and admitted to a local COVID Care Centre, a civic official said on Saturday.
They are students of Classes 8 to 11, the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) official said.
“The father of one of the students had returned from Qatar on December 9. The man, who resides with his family at Gothivali in Ghansoli, had tested negative for the COVID-19 infection. However, when his family members were tested, his son, a Class 11 student of the school, was found infected,” he said.
After this, the process to test all the students in the school – Shetkari Shikshan Sanstha – began, and so far, 16 were found positive, he added.
“Till now, 811 students in the school have been tested over the last three days and this exercise will be carried out on 600 others on Saturday,” the official said.
The infected students are undergoing treatment at the facility in Vashi, he said. — PTI
WHO approves Novavax vaccine for emergency use against COVID
The World Health Organization has given emergency approval to a coronavirus vaccine made by U.S.-based Novavax and the Serum Institute of India, paving the way for its inclusion in the U.N.-backed program to get such vaccines to poorer countries around the world.
The vaccine, known as CovavaxTM, is the ninth to be granted an emergency use authorization from the U.N. health agency, marking a vote of confidence for Novavax that could also mean the shots will be accepted by some countries that only admit travelers vaccinated with WHO-backed jabs.
The Serum Institute is producing the Novavax-developed vaccine and a big question is how much supply it can ship, and when. The vaccine was long anticipated to help increase global vaccine supplies, as the shots require only refrigerated storage — an appealing option for low-income countries compared to other vaccines that require very cold storage. – AP
Swiss launch new restrictions amid surge in COVID infections
The Swiss government said Friday it will require proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 for access to restaurants, cultural or sports events and all other indoor events as the country faces a new surge in coronavirus cases.
The executive Federal Council, after coordinating with regional leaders, announced a series of new measures to take effect Monday. Strain is growing on Swiss hospitals after the total number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units exceeded the crucial threshold of 300.
“The epidemiological situation is extremely worrying; the number of hospital admissions continues to rise and the occupancy of intensive care units is very high in some regions,” the government said in a statement. – AP
France urges vaccine uptake, bans New Year’s concerts
French authorities on Friday urged people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus ahead of the holiday festivities as infections surge and the government tries to avoid another lockdown.
“The fifth wave is here and it is here in full force,” Prime Minister Jean Castex told a news conference, adding that the fast-spreading omicron variant is expected to dominate infections in France at the start of January.
To curb the spread of the virus during the holidays, the government banned public concerts and fireworks displays at New Year’s celebrations and called on people to avoid large gatherings and limit the number of family members congregating at Christmas. – AP
New York tallies record number of COVID-19 infections
New York state reported Friday that just over 21,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 the previous day, the highest single-day total for new cases since testing became widely available.
One-day snapshots of virus statistics can be an unreliable way to measure trends, but the new record punctuated a steady increase that started in the western part of the state in late October, and has taken off in New York City in the past week as the omicron variant spreads.
“This is changing so quickly. The numbers are going up exponentially by day,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said during a Friday appearance on CNN. – AP
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ICMR approves indigenously developed kit to detect current COVID-19 variants
The CoviDelta diagnostics kit developed indigenously by Pune-based GenePath Diagnostics has been approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), company sources said on Friday. The kit detects all current variants of COVID-19 and flags presumptive Delta and Omicron variants in a single test, said Dr. Nickhil Jakatdar, CEO, GenePath Diagnostics.
“This kit is capable of detecting all important COVID-19 variants described across the world to date, including the currently dominant Delta and Omicron variants. This made-in-India kit is quick and cost effective and has been approved by the ICMR as being able to detect COVID-19 variants with high sensitivity and specificity,” he said.
Dr. Nikhil Phadke, founder and chief science officer at GenePath Diagnostics, said that the ‘CoviDelta kit’ helped flag the presence of the first Omicron case in Pune city, which was subsequently confirmed by the Union Health Ministry’s Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG).
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Two more Omicron cases in Kerala
Two more cases of COVID-19 caused by the virus variant Omicron have been confirmed in the State, taking the total number of such cases in the State to seven, Health Minister Veena George said here on Friday.
Omicron was confirmed in a husband-wife duo, aged 68 and 67 years, who flew into Kochi from Sharjah on December 8.
As per the Centre’s directive, the United Arab Emirates is not on the list of “high-risk” nations and, hence, this couple had been allowed to be on self-observation rather than quarantine.
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Omicron tally rises to eight in Telangana
At a time when the pandemic seemed to be under control in Telangana, the State has been getting Omicron cases from abroad and its tally went up to eight on Friday.
The infected persons came from Kenya (3), Abu Dhabi (2) and Dubai, Sudan and the UK (1 each). Two of them were from `at risk’ countries and six from `not at risk’ countries. One more boy who was on a transit halt at Hyderabad international airport tested positive but the result of genome sequencing was known after he had left for Kolkata.
Of the eight infected persons in the State, seven were from in and around Tolichowki in Hyderabad and one woman from Hanamkonda. She tested negative on arrival from the UK but confirmed as positive case by the result of genome sequencing on Thursday evening.
Tamil Nadu to seek Centre’s nod for 7-day home quarantine of all international travellers
Tamil Nadu will seek permission from the Union Government to introduce a seven-day home quarantine for all international travellers, including those arriving from non-risk countries, Health Minister Ma. Subramanian said.
Currently, all travellers from 12 countries deemed at-risk are subjected to RT-PCR tests at the international airports in the State. Two per cent of travellers from non-risk countries are randomly tested as per existing guidelines.
The move to seek seven-day home quarantine came after travellers from non-risk countries such as Nigeria and Congo tested positive for COVID-19 on being randomly tested on arrival, and an analysis of the samples lifted from them and their COVID-positive contacts found S-gene dropout, a marker for the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2. As of now, Tamil Nadu has one confirmed case of the Omicron variant in a 47-year-old man, who had travelled from Nigeria to Chennai via Doha.
Passenger from Ghana, 7 students test positive in Mangaluru
A passenger who has arrived at Mangaluru International Airport from Ghana, a high-risk country, has tested positive for COVID-19. The passenger, who is asymptomatic, was admitted to the isolation ward at the Government Wenlock Hospital in the city on Thursday night, according to Dakshina Kannada Deputy Commissioner K.V. Rajendra. The throat and nasal swab samples of the passenger have been sent to Bengaluru for genomic sequence analysis, he said on Friday.
Mr. Rajendra who held a meeting with the airport and Health Department officials at the airport on Friday said 27 passengers in the fight who were seated with the passenger, including in the front three rows and rear three rows. have been identified as primary contacts and quarantined after conducting RT-PCR test.