Bengaluru: One of the two passengers from South Africa who tested Covid-positive last week has a variant “different from Delta”, Karnataka Health Minister Dr K. Sudhakar said Monday. His statement contradicted the claims of state health officials who said Friday that both travellers had the Delta variant.
The samples from the two travellers were sent for genome sequencing last week.
“One of the samples is found to be Delta while the other is different. We have sought ICMR’s assistance in ascertaining the variant,” the health minister said. “For now, all I can say is that one sample is different from the Delta variant.”
The state is now awaiting confirmation from ICMR on the variant.
The report from Karnataka comes amid growing alarm around a new Covid variant — identified as omicron — that has been designated a “variant of concern” by the WHO. However, the UN health agency has said it “is not yet clear whether omicron is more transmissible (e.g., more easily spread from person to person)” or whether infection with the variant “causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta”.
“Researchers in South Africa and around the world are conducting studies to better understand many aspects of Omicron and will continue to share the findings of these studies as they become available,” it said on 28 November.
Karnataka had last week written to the Centre seeking a ban on travellers from countries affected by the omicron variant. As of Monday afternoon, the state health department said, the variant had been detected in 15 countries — South Africa, Botswana, UK, Hong Kong, Italy, Belgium, Israel, Australia, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Austria, Canada and Portugal.
State seeks booster shots
While the Modi government is undecided on booster shots of the Covid-19 vaccine, the BJP government in Karnataka is batting for them. Booster shots are additional doses — over and above the specified regimen of the Covid vaccines — that some countries have begun to administer as a means to tackle their potentially dwindling efficacy over time.
Following concerns raised by doctors, including those on the government’s technical advisory committee on Covid-19, the Karnataka government has sought the Union government’s approval to administer the third dose of the two-dose Covid vaccines.
“The state government has already written to the Centre seeking permission for administering the booster dose. We have asked the Union government’s permission to start administering booster doses at least to medical professionals who are in high risk situations,” Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai had told reporters Sunday, also reiterating the statement Monday.
Concerns over health and safety of medical professionals were strengthened after cluster breakouts in Karnataka.
The state reported four clusters in less than a week by Saturday, with a fresh one reported Sunday — 13 students of a residential school in Hassan tested positive but were declared asymptomatic.
“We must remember that healthcare workers were given the second dose of Covid-19 vaccine almost 6-7 months ago. There is an immediate need for administering booster shots to keep them protected,” Dr Sudarshan Ballal, Chairman of Manipal group of hospitals’ medical advisory board and member of Karnataka’s expert advisory committee, told The Print.
“It was due to vaccines that we didn’t see many frontline workers succumbing during the second wave unlike the first wave,” he added.
If the country can vaccinate up to two crore people in a day, he said, it can be augmented to cover those awaiting the second dose as well as booster shots of vulnerable groups.
The request to administer booster dose comes at a time vaccine hesitancy has set in once again among citizens.
“Many countries have begun administering booster shots. Although there isn’t enough data, we can protect healthcare workers at least as a precaution. The virus is continuously mutating and we need to take measures to protect caregivers,” said Dr K. Bhujang Shetty, founding chairman of Narayana Nethralaya, a chain of super-speciality eye hospitals.
Clusters cause concern in Telangana too
Three Covid clusters in Telangana educational institutions, in just over a week, have become a cause of concern in the state.
In Sangareddy’s Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Gurukul school, as many as 47 students — out of 470 tested — were found to be Covid positive Sunday and Monday. One of 26 teachers tested for Covid through Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) were found to be positive too.
The tests came after one of the school students showed mild symptoms.
“Their samples have been sent for genome sequencing in Hyderabad to be on the safe side. All of them have been isolated and they are asymptomatic,” District Medical and Health Officer Gayatri Devi told ThePrint.
Last week, Mahindra University on the outskirts of Hyderabad was shut down after 25 students and 5 staff members tested positive. The tests were conducted on a total of 1,700 people, including students and staff members. The private university has moved to online classes asked all hostel residents to return home.
In Telangana’s Khammam district, eight days ago, 29 students tested positive at a government residential school in Wyra mandal. Tests were conducted on 550 students.
Educational institutions in the state, specifically schools, reopened from 1 September following a go-ahead from the Telangana High Court. The court permitted the state to restart residential schools in October after the state government specified the precautions that will be taken.
Inputs from Rishika Sadam
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)