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India finds its first two Omicron variant cases in Karnataka state

NEW DELHI: India announced its first two cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant yesterday, after battling a record jump in infections and deaths between April and June in the country, where the Delta variant is the dominant strain.

Top Health Ministry official Luv Agarwal said two men in southern Karnataka state, aged 66 and 46, had tested positive for the Omicron variant.

"As per the protocols, all their primary and secondary contacts have been traced and are being tested," he told a press briefing.

India has yet to impose new blanket international travel bans, but on Monday, the Health Ministry ordered all inbound travellers from 12 "at-risk" economies to undergo mandatory post-arrival virus testing, along with the random testing of other international arrivals.

India's biggest city Mumbai on Wednesday imposed mandatory seven-day quarantine for all passengers arriving from at-risk economies.

Omicron, first discovered in southern Africa, represents a fresh challenge to global efforts to battle the pandemic with several nations already reimposing restrictions many had hoped were a thing of the past.

It is the latest coronavirus strain to emerge since the start of the pandemic, including the currently dominant Delta variant, which was first detected in India in October last year.

More than 200,000 people in India died in a devastating Covid-19 wave between April and June that overwhelmed hospitals and crematoriums.

India has the world's second highest number of cases, with more than 34 million confirmed infections.

Its nearly 470,000 Covid-19 deaths are the third highest, behind the tolls in the United States and Brazil.

But under-reporting is widespread and some studies have estimated India's true toll could be up to 10 times higher.

The country has since administered more than 1.2 billion vaccine doses but only around a third of the population are fully vaccinated, according to government data. - AFP

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