NEW DELHI, Dec 4: After Karnataka, Gujarat has emerged as the second state in the country where Omicron variant of Covid-19 has recorded entry. A 72-year old Non-Resident Indian, who landed in Jamnagar from his adopted country Zimbabwe, has tested positive for Omicron variant, the third case in India after two cases detected in Karnataka earlier this week.
Omicron variant was confirmed on Saturday on the NRI who had arrived in Jamnagar in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat on November 28 from Zimbabwe, a high risk country, and had tested positive for coronavirus on December 2, after which his sample was sent for genome sequencing. Two sets of samples of the Zimbabwe citizen, whose wife is a native of Jamnagar, had been sent for whole genome sequencing — one to the National Institute of Virology in Pune and another to the Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre (GBRC) in Gandhinagar.
While the report from NIV Pune is expected on Monday, the GBRC has confirmed the presence of the Omicron variant in the sample, said Dr SS Chatterjee, nodal officer of Covid-19 for Jamnagar district. Jamnagar district collector Dr Sourabh Pardhi was informed about the presence of the variant by state-level authorities after the same was conveyed to the state health department by GBRC on Saturday.
Dr Chatterjee added that while the patient had shown mild symptoms of cough, cold and sore throat after admission on December 1 in the Covid-19 hospital in the Jamnagar Medical College, he is stable at present. The patient had received only the first dose of the Sinovac vaccine. “It will be at least another three to four days before we test him for Covid-19 again and even if it is negative, the protocol requires that he remain isolated as a negative Covid-19 test does not mean the patient has stopped viral shedding,” said Dr Chatterjee.
After WHO on November 26 issued a statement that “several labs have indicated that for one widely used PCR test, one of the three target genes is not detected (called S gene dropout or S gene target failure) and this test can, therefore, be used as a marker for this variant, pending sequencing confirmation,” a Jamnagar health official said while the administration was looking out for such markers, the Jamnagar patient did not report a missing S-gene in his RT-PCR report.
Following confirmation of Omicron variant, an urgent meeting was held by Gujarat chief secretary Pankaj Kumar with additional chief secretary of health Manoj Aggarwal, health commissioner Jaiprakash Shivhare and other health officials.
The whole genome sequencing of the NRI, who had come to Jamnagar to call on his ailing father-in-law, has revealed that the patient is infected with the Omicron variant.
Gujarat’s Commissioner of Health Jai Prakash Shivhare confirmed that the man has tested positive for the Omicron variant. The man, who hails from Jamnagar, has been living in Zimbabwe since the last many years. He arrived in the state to meet his father-in-law. After he got a fever, his doctor advised him to get an RT-PCR test done. The private laboratory on Thursday informed the civic authorities that his report has come positive for COVID-19, he said. After that, the man had been shifted to the isolation ward at the Government Hospital. The district authorities had already started his contact tracing as per protocols, officials said.
The Omicron strain has been marked as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO). According to the Centre, the countries designated as “at-risk” are European countries, including the UK, and South Africa, Brazil, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel.
Meanwhile, amidst call for booster dose for the people above the age of 40, scientists said India should prioritise double vaccinating its eligible population against Covid over first before considering booster shots given the large number of people still to get the base layer of protection against the infection.
Concerns over the Omicron variant and waning vaccine-induced protection against the infection have highlighted the need for boosters to protect the most vulnerable. And while many countries have already started giving booster shots, several experts here said the priority in India has to be different given that large-scale immunisation programme began only six-eight months ago.
In advocating putting boosters on the back-burner for the moment, the experts’ opinion runs counter to the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Sequencing Consortium (INSACOG) that has recommended a booster dose for those above 40 years in high-risk and high-exposure populations.
The Omicron variant was first traced in Botswana where Dr Sikhulile Moyo was analyzing Covid-19 samples in his lab last week when he noticed they looked startlingly different from others. Within days, the world was ablaze with the news that the coronavirus had a new variant of concern — one that appears to be driving a dramatic surge in South Africa and offering a glimpse of where the pandemic might be headed.
Little is known about the new variant, but the spike in South Africa suggests it might be more contagious, said Moyo, the scientist who may have been the first to identify the new variant, though researchers in neighboring South Africa were close on his heels.
It’s not clear if the variant causes more serious illness or can evade the protection of vaccines. The scientists noted that only a small number of people who have been vaccinated have gotten sick, mostly with mild cases, while the vast majority of those who have been hospitalized were not vaccinated.
Meanwhile, in another incident of concern for the Gujarat authorities, a 30-year old NRI woman, who landed at Ahmedabad International Airport from London on Friday night, has tested positive for Covid-19.
Ahmedabad chief district health officer Satish Parmar said of the 222 passengers on the flight, the 30-year-old woman, who holds a US passport, was the only one to test positive for the virus. The sample has been sent to Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre (GBRC) for genome sequencing to ascertain the specific strain. “The woman had tested positive some 10-12 days ago at UK and had tested negative on December 1. Upon arrival at Ahmedabad, she tested positive again,” Parmar added.