Himachal, Madhya Pradesh Report First Omicron Cases, All From Abroad

New Delhi: Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh on Sunday reported their first cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. In Madhya Pradesh eight people who had returned from abroad tested positive. In Himachal Pradesh one case was confirmed from nine samples sent for genome sequencing.

Of the eight cases in Madhya Pradesh, three had returned from the United States, two each from the United Kingdom and Tanzania, and one from Ghana. Six have since tested negative and been discharged from hospitals. The remaining two are both asymptomatic and receiving treatment.

Apart from the eight Omicron cases, 18 more tested positive for other strains of COVID-19.

In Himachal Pradesh, a woman who returned from Canada tested positive. She returned a negative RT-PCR test yesterday and her three contacts are also negative for Covid. Results from either samples are awaited.

This morning the government said there were 415 Omicron cases in India – this did not include cases from Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, which become the 18th and 19th states to do so.

Maharashtra has 108, followed by Delhi with 79.

Gujarat – Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, and which is due to hold Assembly elections in two months – has 43. Telangana, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu have 144 between them. Uttar Pradesh, which is also due to hold elections in two months – has two.

Amid rising global concern over the Omicron strain – which is significantly more infectious than the Delta variant and possibly more resistant to vaccines – the government last night authorised “precaution doses” for healthcare and frontline workers, as well as those over 60 years of age.

“The government has decided that precaution doses of the Covid vaccine will be started for healthcare and frontline workers from January 10, 2022,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said; it was significant, some said, that he did not call them booster shots.

On Saturday the government said it would send teams of medical experts to 10 states “which are either reporting increasing Omicron and COVID-19 cases or slow vaccination pace”.

On that list are UP and Punjab – both states are due to hold elections in February-March.

This week, with memories of the surge in cases after rallies in Bengal and other states earlier in the year, the Allahabad High Court asked the Election Commission to consider deferring polls.

Since it was first detected in South Africa last month, the Omicron variant has spread across the world at frightening speeds and is now present in over 100 countries.

Several nations have quickly rolled out booster doses to protect their populations, and many of them, including India, have re-imposed travel restrictions to contain the variant.

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