- The government has urged people to 'vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate'
- India reported its first cases of the Omicron Covid strain yesterday
- The Omicron variant was first reported from South Africa last week
The government has urged people to 'vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate' in response to widespread and growing concern after India reported its first cases of the Omicron Covid strain.
The government also said "the severity of the disease is anticipated to be low" because of the fast pace of vaccination and a measure of natural immunity acquired after exposure to the Delta variant.
In a brief statement released Friday, the government said "... given its (the Omicron strain) characteristics it is likely to spread to more countries, including India", underlining expectations that more cases of the new strain will be detected in the country over the next few days and weeks.
"Omicron cases are increasingly being reported from countries outside of South Africa and, given its characteristics, (the variant) is likely to spread to more countries, including India... (but) given the fast pace of vaccination in India, and high exposure to Delta (as evidenced by high seropositivity), the severity of the disease is anticipated to be low," the government's FAQ said.
"There is no evidence to suggest existing vaccines do not work on Omicron... vaccine protection is also by antibodies as well as cellular immunity... Hence, vaccines are expected to still offer protection against severe disease and, vaccination with the available vaccines is crucial," the FAQ said.
Existing tests will pick up signs of Covid infection but they cannot offer definitive proof of Omicron.
Covid tests "detect specific genes in the virus, such as 'spike' (S), 'enveloped' (E) and 'nucleocapsid' (N) to confirm presence". In the Omicron strain, the S gene is heavily mutated and so "some of the primers may lead to results indicating absence of the S gene" and this, in relation to other markers, "could be used as a diagnostic feature" to identify the new variant, the government said.
"... for final confirmation of the Omicron variant, genomic sequencing is required," the government warned, echoing cautionary notes on this matter from the WHO.
This caution is also because the S gene is also missing in the Alpha variant.
It has a reported 50 mutations (compared to Delta), of which 30+ are on the spike protein, which is the target of most current vaccines and is what the virus uses to access to the body's cells.
Researchers are trying to confirm whether this makes it more transmissible or lethal than Delta, and are also just how effective existing vaccines will be.
Since announcing the first two cases yesterday, a number of other samples have been flagged as possible Omicron cases, including two in Tamil Nadu. These and earlier samples, including 10 from Mumbai, six from Delhi and two from Chandigarh, are being analysed to identify the strain.
Samples from five contacts of one of the Omicron patients (a 46-year-old Bengaluru anaesthetist with no travel history) are also being analysed, after they too tested positive for COVID-19.