India asks states to step up COVID testing over Omicron

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Virus testing to be ramped up as some cities delay the reopening of schools as a precautionary measure.

India’s health ministry says the states should ramp up COVID-19 testing as the world battles the new coronavirus variant Omicron, while some cities have delayed the reopening of schools as a precautionary measure.

The ministry on Tuesday also said the Omicron variant “doesn’t escape RT-PCR and RAT (testing)”, appeasing some concerns among domestic health workers that changes in the spike protein of the virus could lead to conventional tests failing to detect the mutation.

It comes as the ministry warned the state governments last week that a recent fall in testing could undermine India’s efforts to contain the pandemic.

While India has not reported any Omicron cases yet, authorities are studying the sample of a man who tested positive for COVID-19 after recently returning from South Africa to see if he is infected with the Omicron or another variant.

Also on Tuesday, Mumbai’s municipal corporation said it was delaying reopening schools for younger children to December 15 instead of Wednesday as a precautionary measure given the global situation involving Omicron.

In-person classes for senior students began about two months ago in the city.

The city of Pune, which is also located in the western state of Maharashtra, has also postponed the reopening of schools, local media reported.

After battling a record jump in infections and deaths in April and May, cases have come down substantially in India.

Its COVID-19 cases rose by 8,954 on Wednesday. It was 6,990 on Tuesday – the smallest increase in 551 days.

India’s totally coronavirus tally is nearly 35 million, with only the United States reporting more infections. Deaths on Wednesday rose by 267, taking the total to 469,247, health ministry data showed.

But there have been concerns over India’s vaccination drive amid the discovery of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

“I wouldn’t say that we are really prepared because our vaccination drive is stumbling and that is going to be a major challenge,” health economist Rijo M John told agencies.

“I am worried about people above 45 years of age. Only 58 percent of the population above 45 has been given two doses of the vaccine,” he said.

“If the Omicron variant turns out to be more problematic or leads to more serious diseases, then this is the population that needs to be highly worried.”



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