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New Covid strain Omicron may have already reached India: Expert

New Covid strain Omicron may have already reached India: Expert

New Delhi: The newly emerged variant of Covid-19, 'Omicron' could be in India already and might get detected in a matter of time, an ICMR expert told NDTV.

The first case of Omicron was reported on November 9th, and there must have been passenger transits from Africa since then, Dr Samiran Panda, the head of Epidemiology at the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research), said. He added that there must be some symptomatic cases in these travellers as well.

Panda also claimed India is well prepared, citing the INSACOG laboratory network. It is a multi-laboratory, multi-agency pan-India network set up by the government to monitor genomic variations in the SARS-CoV-2.

Samples from countrywide are sent to laboratories that are part of the network and are studied to determine the genetic makeup of the virus, which ultimately helps identify its different strains. Panda said that the network is adept at identifying the variants responsible for the infection.

He further said that vaccination does not prevent the acquisition of infection even if we are fully vaccinated.

"What is important is following Covid-19 appropriate behaviour such as wearing masks, hand hygiene and avoiding mass gatherings," he added.

While reiterating that vaccine alone cannot help, he noted that it could help from severe disease, hospitalisation and death. The transmissibility of the virus is expected at least as much as of Delta and the first image of the variant suggested that it can have more mutations than Delta.

On the need for booster shots, Panda said that the priority is to cover as many people as possible with both doses. He added that those eligible for booster doses should be served but not at the cost of those not fully vaccinated.

Experts worry that a large number of cases might derail health infrastructure. Even if the cases are not severe, they can cause increased morbidity and mortality.

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