COVID-19 | Puducherry reports first Omicron cases

The first Omicron cases were confirmed in the Union Territory of Puducherry on Tuesday after the new variant was detected in samples of two COVID-19-recovered residents of the city during genome sequencing undertaken at NIMHANS, Bengaluru.

The patients, a 28-year-old woman who was in home isolation and an 82-year-old man who was admitted to the TB and Chest Diseases Hospital, had tested positive for COVID-19 in the first week of December, and had subsequently recovered from infection.

“We have already instructed the PHCs in the neighbourhoods of the patients to do targeted contact tracing and sample collection,” said L. Ravi Varman who heads the Integrated and Disease Surveillance Programme under the National Centre for Disease Control.

The samples were collected from these patients as part of random surveillance testing and before the health department had acquired the special RTPCR kits for targeted testing of the S gene droput or S gene target failure, which is a marker for Omicron. The ISDP has designated two sentinel surveillance sites in the UT—JIPMER in Puducherry and the General Hospital in Karaikal.

Apart from priority sampling of Covid cases with a history of travel to any of the countries notified as “high-risk” for Omicron, the health department is also drawing random samples from Covid patients from among the local population.

“We will know over the next few weeks the extent of the circulation in the community of the Omicron variant which is reported to be even more transmissible than previous COVID-19 strains,” a health official said.

The Omicron red flag could not have come at a more dicey moment for the government as it has lined up a series of festive events, from multi-venue New Year eve concerts that is expected to attract visitors from neighbouring States where restrictions are in place, to a World Yoga Festival from January 4 to 7 and the 25th National Youth Festival (NYF) scheduled in the city from January 12 to 16.

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