As many as 101 cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 have been detected in 11 states in India so far, including 32 in Maharashtra and 22 in Delhi, the Health Ministry said at a press briefing on Friday, 17 December.
Warning that the number of Omicron cases around the world are increasing rapidly, with the variant having been detected in 91 countries, Joint Secretary to the Health Ministry Lav Agrawal said:
"As per the World Health Organization, Omicron is spreading faster than the Delta variant in South Africa, where Delta circulation was low. It also appears to spread more quickly than Delta in places where the incidence of Delta is high, such as in the United Kingdom."
"If we look at the scale of spread in the UK and if there is a similar outbreak in India, then given our population, there will be 14 lakh cases every day. France is reporting 65,000 cases. If an outbreak of a similar scale takes place in India, then it will mean 13 lakh cases every day," NITI Ayog member VK Paul said at the press conference.
"This is the time to avoid non-essential travel and mass gatherings, and it is very important to observe low-intensity festivities," Director General of the Indian Council for Medical Research Dr Balram Bhargava said at the weekly COVID-19 briefing.
Where India's COVID Cases, Vaccinations Stand
India's active caseload currently stands at 86,415, Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal noted on Friday. The number of daily new cases in the past 20 days remains below 10,000, while the weekly positivity rate reduced to 0.65 percent.
India has so far administered a total of 82.82 crore first doses of the vaccine and 53.72 crore second doses. More than 136 crore doses have been administered in the country, which is 2.8 times the total doses administered in USA (48.6 crore)," the Health Ministry official stated, adding that India has the highest vaccination rate in the world.
There is no evidence to suggest that vaccines are not effective against the Omicron variant of COVID-19, he added.
'Should Not Dismiss Omicron as Mild': WHO
"Based on current limited evidence, Omicron appears to be spreading fast, at a rate not seen with previous variants. Emerging data from South Africa suggest increased risk of reinfection with Omicron," WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said on Friday, reported news agency ANI.
"We should not dismiss Omicron as mild. Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the number of cases could once again overwhelm health systems," the public health expert said.
Dr Singh observed that preliminary data had indicated that vaccines may show reduced effectiveness against the Omicron variant. She added that it would take a few more weeks to fully assess the vaccines' performance.