Omicron cases detected among non- travelers signals wider spread

Expediting random sampling: Govt
Omicron cases detected among non- travelers signals wider spread
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Srinagar, Dec 24: With Omicron variant getting confirmed from a cluster of cases in Jammu, experts are of the opinion that the mutant strain may already be circulating in the community. Government said it is trying to get a better picture of the spread by more random sampling.

Two of the three people who were confirmed to be infected with Omicron variant of COVID19 on Tuesday had no history of travel to outside the country or contact with a person known to have history of travel to outside the country. The people had been sampled, as per J&K Government, upon suspicion and random sampling due to a high transmission in two localities of Jammu. The infected include a minor. The Genome Sequencing reports were available after 20 days of sampling, as per the Health and Medical Education Department.

Although without Genomic data, experts believe, it is difficult to say with certainty whether Omicron Variant has infected people in Kashmir and in other parts of Jammu; suspicions are high, they say. Prof Parvaiz Koul, ex-head department of Internal and Pulmonary Medicine at SKIMS Soura and Vice Chairman of Middle East, Eurasia and Africa Influenza Stakeholders Network (MENA ISN) said the way cases have been high in Kashmir in the recent past and the multiple instances of entire families being infected pointed towards “an extremely transmissible strain”. “My feeling is that it is here already. Only testing is delayed,” he said. He said that there needs to be “appropriate testing” and analysis of trends supported by scientific evidence.

The delay in Genome Sequencing of positive samples sent to Indian SARS CoV2 Genomics Consortium, INSACOG, and the Government labs established to monitor genomic variations of the virus that causes COVID19. However, the delay in getting the reports of samples, many people working with COVID19 management in Kashmir believe puts the containment efforts in jeopardy. A senior health official said that the Genome Sequencing reports of the samples that had been sent on 01 December from Kashmir December had not been received yet. “It’s been more than three weeks and we still don’t know what variant was present in the samples of positive cases we chose for genome sequencing,” he said.

Prof Naveed Nazir Shah, Head department of Chest Medicine at GMC Srinagar said no Omicron case had been confirmed in Kashmir yet but “it could crop up anytime”. He said the concern with Omicron was its high transmissibility and whether the present vaccines would be effective against it. “The silver lining is that the Virus seems to cause milder infection,” he said.

Additional Chief Secretary J&K Government (Health and Medical Education) Vivek Bhardwaj said J&K was already carrying out the highest per million testing in India. He said the Government was increasing the sampling for Genome Sequencing and including randomly chosen positives for the purpose in addition to sampling those with foreign travel history. “We are trying to explore ways to expedite Genome sequencing of suspected cases,” he said.

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