India confirms first Omicron death as cases soar across country

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Omicron variant accounts for more than 50 per cent of the cases in urban India (Getty Images)
Omicron variant accounts for more than 50 per cent of the cases in urban India (Getty Images)

India on Wednesday confirmed its first death from the Omicron variant of coronavirus after a 73-year-old man from the western state Rajasthan succumbed to the infection.

The man, Laxminarayan Nagar, died in the city of Udaipur after two weeks of hospitalisation, officials said. He had tested positive for the infection on 15 December. Nagar had received both doses of the vaccine but also had other comorbidities such as diabetes and hypertension.

Officials had sent his swab samples for genome sequencing and found on 25 December that he had contracted the Omicron variant despite having no travel history or contacts with previously known cases. Even though Nagar was found to be Covid negative on 21 December, he died 10 days later around 3.30am.

The federal and state administrations have both said that his death will be counted as an Omicron fatality.

It comes on a day when India’s new Covid cases in the past 24 hours shot up to 58,09 — the highest daily spike in six months. India’s daily case count has shot up by nine times since last week, owing to the spread of Omicron in the densely populated country. On 27 December, India had recorded only 6,531 new cases.

Health ministry officials confirmed the surge in cities and said Omicron is now the predominant circulating variant. At least 2,135 cases of the highly transmissible variant have been confirmed by the government since India reported its first case three and a half weeks ago on 12 December.

Maharashtra and Delhi have been affected the worst, with officials saying that the rapid spike in cases there signals the likely likely start of a third wave in the country as a whole. The national capital reported 10,665 Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, up from 102 infections recorded on 21 December.

Mass gatherings must be avoided to lower the speed of the spread, Dr Balram Bhargava, the director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, said on Wednesday while addressing a weekly press conference.

The Omicron variant, which accounts for more than 50 per cent of the cases in urban India, has now overtaken the Delta variant cases, forcing authorities to send people under lockdown-like measures.

Several cities including Delhi have resorted to weekend and nightly curfews to try and reduce social mixing.

World Health Organisation chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan warned against complacency and said that a surge in cases could still lead to a healthcare crisis, even if the variant appears to bring less severe symptoms for many.

“Omicron is not the common cold! Health systems can get overwhelmed. Important to have systems to test, advise and monitor large number of patients as the surge can be sudden and huge,” Dr Swaminathan said on Twitter.

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