Bengaluru: Four new Covid-19 clusters found over the last week have set off alarm bells in Karnataka. The clusters have been reported from schools and colleges in Dharwad, Bengaluru Rural, Bengaluru Urban and Mysuru districts.
Following the concerns raised over the clusters, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has called for a review meeting of the Covid situation in the state Saturday evening.
In Dharwad’s SDM College of Medical Sciences alone, the tally of Covid-19 cases touched 281 as of Friday night. More tests are being conducted.
“Around 99 people tested positive on Friday taking the tally to 281. Only six are symptomatic,” Deputy Commissioner Nitish Patil told reporters in Dharwad Saturday.
The Covid-19 infections spread to students and staff — including doctors and paramedical personnel — of the institute after a mass congregation event was held at a hall in the college on 14 November.
Two more events were also held in the same hall and notices have been sent to those who attended the event to get tested. More than 2,000 primary and secondary contacts are being traced and tested in Dharwad. All schools and colleges in a 500-metre radius were ordered to be shut down until Monday in a bid to contain the spread.
A day after the first batch of 180 infections was found in Dharwad, more than 50 students of two nursing colleges in Mysuru tested positive. Most of these 50 students were asymptomatic, but were also fully vaccinated.
Then, Friday evening, 33 students and a staff member of a residential school in Bengaluru Urban tested positive for Covid-19. Alarmingly, all 33 students are below 18 years of age and hence unvaccinated, but are asymptomatic, while the staff member is fully vaccinated.
A statement from the district health officer said “497 persons have been tested so far with 33 students of class 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 testing positive along with a staff member. The school campus has been sealed and all patients are in isolation”.
In yet another cluster, 12 students of a nursing college in Anekal of Bengaluru Rural had tested positive for Covid-19 until Friday afternoon. All patients had been vaccinated and nine were symptomatic.
State issues guidelines for international travellers
Speaking to the media Saturday over the alarming trend, Health Minister Dr K. Sudhakar appealed to 45 lakh citizens who are due to take the second vaccine dose to finish the process at the earliest.
“A new variant, Omicron B 1.1.529, has been detected in Botswana, South Africa, Israel etc and is said to be more infectious than the Delta variant. We have sent samples from the clusters for genome sequencing and are expecting the results by 1 December. Until that time, we cannot be sure if the new variant is infecting people in the clusters,” Sudhakar told reporters in Bengaluru Saturday morning.
Owing to the new variant, Karnataka has defined new guidelines for incoming passengers from affected countries.
“We don’t know if the new variant is more virulent yet, but we have issued new guidelines to check passengers coming from affected countries. Irrespective of their test results, they have to undergo RT-PCR test at the airport and wait there until results come. They have to then maintain home quarantine for a week and take the test again,” Sudhakar said while insisting that there is no cause for worry since most new cases are asymptomatic.
However, Dr Sudarshan Ballal, member of the expert committee to the Karnataka government and chairman of the medical advisory board of Manipal Hospitals, told ThePrint that the number of people being infected in these clusters in a cause for concern. “It seems the virus infecting them is spreading fast. We need to get genome sequencing done quickly to find out what variant this is,” he said.
“Another concern is also that the new Omicron B 1.1.529 variant has multiple mutations and also has the same protein that we use to make vaccines, sparking off fears that vaccines may not be effective in tackling the virus. However, the silver lining is that most patients are asymptomatic and vaccinated,” Ballal continued.
“We must also look at booster doses for vulnerable groups as soon as possible. Most of us frontline workers took our second dose some seven to eight months ago, and we must be able to ensure a booster dose and a second dose for those awaiting it simultaneously,” he added.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)