The 358 Omicron Covid variant cases have been detected across 17 states and union territories so far
New Delhi: The Central government on Friday said that the world is witnessing the fourth surge in Covid-19 cases and cautioned people to not lower their guard, particularly during year-end festivities. It urged people to avoid over-crowding and unnecessary travel and follow Covid appropriate behaviour with double-dose vaccination.
The warning came on a day when India logged 122 new cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus in a span of 24 hours, the highest so far, pushing the tally to 358 across 17 states and Union Territories. The government also appealed to the private health sector to be ready as it has to play an important role in managing the pandemic.
“The World Health Organisation on December 7 said that Omicron has a significant growth advantage over Delta which means, it has greater transmissibility. Omicron cases double within 1.5-3 days, so we have to remain vigilant with Covid appropriate behaviour,” Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said during a Press briefing.
An analysis of 183 Omicron patients in India has revealed that 91 per cent of them were fully vaccinated and 27 per cent had no travel history, reinforcing experts' fears the new strain can evade existing vaccines and is entrenched in the local population. About 61 per cent of the country’s adults are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and 89 per cent have been administered only one dose.
The government now plans to conduct a study to test the impact of boosters - on 3,000 fully vaccinated individuals. The study is expected to cover all three vaccines that are currently being administered in India – Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik V. Several countries, including the US and those in Europe, have started giving booster shots. India is yet to do so, despite calls from medical experts and the WHO.
Amid fears of the fast spread of Omicron, poll-bound Uttar Pradesh and Haryana have imposed a night curfew from 11 pm till 5 am from Saturday. The two states have also prohibited the gathering of more than 200 persons in public places, as well as other programmes, till further notice.
The night curfew in UP comes a day after the Allahabad High Court requested the Election Commission to consider postponing Assembly elections due in two months. With memories of thousands of people - not practising social distancing - at campaign rallies in West Bengal and other states ahead of elections there earlier this year, the High Court also requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ban poll-related gatherings in the state.
In Maharashtra, gatherings of five or more will not be allowed between 9 pm and 6 am, as coronavirus cases recorded their steepest rise in nearly two months amid the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant. The new guidelines, which will come into effect from midnight - seven days before New Year's Eve, restrict attendance at indoor weddings to 100 people and not more than 250 people or 25 per cent whichever is less in outdoor weddings.
The rules specify that indoor venues like gyms, spas, hotels, theatres and cinema halls will be allowed to run at 50 per cent capacity while sports events will be allowed to have 25 per cent occupancy. The restrictions were announced on a day when Mumbai reported 683 new Covid-19 cases, the highest since October 6, while Maharashtra added 1,410 new cases - the sharpest rise since October 27.
The tally of Omicron infections reported in Maharashtra has gone up to 108 with 20 fresh cases reported in the last 24 hours. After Maharashtra, Delhi has the second-highest number of Omicron cases, at 67, in the country. The national capital also recorded 180 fresh Covid-19 cases, the highest single-day rise since June 16, and zero death while the positivity rate mounted to 0.29 per cent. On June 16, Delhi had logged 212 Covid-19 cases. The Delhi government is now in process of roping NGOs for strengthening its health infrastructure and manpower.
The Odisha government has also announced restrictions from December 25 to January 2. The government made it clear that only 50 people will be allowed inside the church for Christmas. No social gatherings, rallies and other cultural programmes will be permitted as per the fresh advisory. All celebrations, other than marriage, have also been banned in the state.
In New Delhi, the health ministry said the Delta variant of coronavirus continues to be the predominant strain in India and there was a need to continue with Covid-appropriate behaviour and ramp up vaccination. The health secretary said Asia was witnessing a decline in the number of fresh Covid-19 cases in comparison to Europe, North America and Africa. “But we have to be on guard,” he said.
India has been recording around 7,000 Covid-19 cases every day. Since the past 4 weeks, India's daily case tally has been below 10,000. India has already seen two surges of the pandemic -- one in September 2020 and the second in May 2021.
At present, India's cases are on the decline. The global case positivity rate is more than 6% while India's case positivity rate is 5.3%, though there are regional variations. The health ministry said that the cause of concern is the case positivity rate in Kerala and Mizoram.
The ministry said 108 countries have reported over 1 lakh Omicron cases and there have been 26 deaths. In India, 114 of the 358 Omicron patients, have already recovered.
In the last 24 hours, India also recorded 6,650 new coronavirus infections, taking its tally of cases to 3,47,72,626. The death toll due to the disease climbed to 4,79,133, with 374 fresh fatalities reported in the same time span.