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Where did Karnataka doctor get Omicron? No ready answer, govt to ‘review his steps over 1 month’

Karnataka govt has also issued a set of new SOPs in view of the new variant, with a double dose of vaccination now mandatory for parents of schoolchildren and government staff. 

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Bengaluru: A day after Karnataka became the first state in the country to report cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, health department officials are scrambling to identify the source of infection in a Bengaluru doctor, one of the two cases identified. 

At a meeting chaired by Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai Friday evening, it is learnt, a decision was taken to trace the patient’s activities over the past month. A set of new SOPs was also issued in view of the new variant, with a double dose of vaccination now mandatory for parents of schoolchildren and government staff. 

When asked by reporters if the Omicron variant could already be in community transmission, state Health Minister Dr. K. Sudhakar said it was too early to comment. Community spread, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, occurs when an illness spreads without the source of infection being known.

Speaking of the infected doctor, a highly-placed source from the health ministry who was privy to the discussion at the meeting told ThePrint, “He is a doctor and perhaps was a secondary or tertiary contact of someone with the variant. We do not know the source yet. The only way to find the source is to review all his activities over the last one month.” 

The other Omicron case reported from Bengaluru was a traveller from South Africa who has since left the country. The doctor, who is double-vaccinated, has no recent travel history. The health department is now trying to verify the source of infection in the doctor, especially as five of his contacts have tested positive for Covid-19 too. 

Earlier in the day, health department officials were collecting information on any seminars, talks, gatherings and so on that the doctor may have attended over the past few weeks. 

“There have been medical seminars in the last two weeks, but has he attended any, was he a speaker, did he contract the virus in such a seminar — it is all yet to be verified,” the source added. 

Sudhakar said Thursday that the process to identify the source of infection was underway. However, officials of the municipal corporation, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), have remained tight-lipped. 

Also read: Omicron precaution: Govt body monitoring Covid variants wants booster shots for those over 40

Tracing the source, travellers ‘gone incommunicado’

The cardiac specialist, who works at a government-run tertiary care hospital, had developed symptoms like fever and body ache on 21 November. The next day, he tested positive for Covid-19. 

His samples were sent for genome sequencing as his cycle threshold (CT) values were low, indicating a higher viral load. His sample was found to be the Omicron variant of Covid-19. 

The doctor was discharged from hospital on 27 November, but has since been re-admitted. His residence has been sealed off and neighbours have also been subjected to tests. 

Meanwhile, health department officials were trying to reach 57 travellers who arrived in Karnataka from South Africa after the Omicron variant was discovered there. Of the 57, 10 have gone incommunicado, the government said. 

“It is not ethical to escape testing and move around in public. I urge the 10 passengers to come forward and get tested. Let the government help you access the best care if you are Covid-19 positive,” said Sudhakar while speaking to reporters Friday. 

New guidelines 

Chief Minister Bommai held a review meeting Friday evening, and fresh SOPs were issued in view of the Omicron variant. 

“All international passengers will be tested at Bengaluru airport and will be allowed to exit the airport only if they test negative. We have made a double dose of vaccination mandatory for parents of school children, and government staff,” Revenue Minister R. Ashoka told reporters at a press conference Friday evening after the review meeting.

“Only those covered with both doses of the vaccine will be allowed in theatres, cinema halls or malls,” he said. 

Karnataka will reactivate oxygen plants, coordination committees and call centres set up during the first and second waves. The government has also decided to set up dedicated, separate ICUs for Omicron and Delta variant cases as a precautionary measure. 

The number of participants at gatherings and events has been capped at 500. All social events at schools and colleges are to be postponed until 15 January 2022. 

“For the convenience of international passengers, we will introduce a system that enables them to register for a test at a particular time and date at Bengaluru airport as soon as they board their flights in the country they are travelling from. This will help reduce delays here,” added Ashoka.

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

Also read: WHO deploys team in South Africa to tackle Omicron variant as cases surge


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