This warning of surging infections comes at a time health experts have confirmed that the Omicron variant has already entered the community transmission stage within India and is no longer only carried by travellers entering the country.
On Monday, India reported 306,064 new Covid infections and 439 deaths within a 24-hour period, the federal health ministry said. Covid cases in India have increased 46-fold in a month. On 24 December, exactly a month ago, India had recorded just 6,650 new cases in a day.
The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), which monitors the virus’ genome sequencing, released a report on Sunday in which it said the Omicron spread had become dominant in parts of the country.
“Omicron is now in community transmission in India and has become dominant in multiple metros,” the report said.
Owing to the recent spread, India’s weekly positivity rate also surged to 17 per cent in the third week of January, up from about 0.6 per cent recorded on 27 December.
The increasing number of cases in two of India’s largest cities, national capital Delhi and financial hub Mumbai, was perhaps the first indicator of the spread of Omicron.
Experts have said the second indicator would be the disease spreading in the rest of the country, something that would soon be visible.
The western state of Maharashtra, that has reported some of the country’s largest number of infections since the onset of the pandemic, can expect multiple peaks in the next two to three months, said Dr Subhash Salunke, a top expert and former adviser to the state government.
The state’s capital is Mumbai, which had earlier seen record Covid cases during the Delta-driven second wave.
“The number of cases in cities like Mumbai and Pune [also in Maharashtra] are the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
The Delta variant, however, has not completely been eliminated from the country and is still circulating, he explained.
India’s third wave, which has seen a record number of Covid cases being reported, has been marked by lower hospitalisation rates.
Concerns, however, are emerging because of “stealth Omicron”, a “variant under investigation” that has been confirmed by health chiefs. At least 500 “stealth Omicron” cases have been detected in the UK.
Officially known as BA.2, the variant is said to be a sub-lineage of the original Omicron, called BA.1.
It has been detected in more than 40 countries, including the US, India, Germany and Australia.