Here are updates about the new coronavirus variant from Tuesday:

  1. The Centre on Tuesday asked states and Union Territories to ramp up Covid-19 testing, saying that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus disease does not escape RT-PCR and rapid antigen tests. The government also asked states to undertake surveillance of international passengers and continue to monitor Covid-19 hotspots. So far, India has not reported any case of the new variant.
  2. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation postponed the reopening of schools for Classes 1 to 7 till December 15 due to concerns about the new Omicron variant of Covid-19, The Indian Express reported. Earlier, schools were scheduled to reopen from Wednesday. “There are 12 countries listed as ‘at risk’ where the new variant has been detected, and Mumbai sees a high footfall of international travellers,” said Raju Tadvi, education officer of the city’s civic body. “Keeping these developments in mind we have postponed the reopening of schools by 15 days.”
  3. A week after it was first detected in South Africa, the Omicron variant has been spotted in at least 16 countries. The variant has about 50 mutations overall, including over 30 on the spike protein, the exposed part of the virus that binds with human cells. This is important because vaccines are designed to target the spike protein and the more mutations there are on them, the greater the risk that the virus has the ability to evade them.
  4. The World Health Organization warned that the Omicron variant poses a very high risk of infection surges around the globe. The head of the organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called for an end to vaccine inequity, saying Covid-19 is “not done with us” yet.
  5. In Bengaluru, airport authorities have made RT-PCR and rapid antigen testing compulsory for those travelling from other countries, the Hindustan Times reported. Bengaluru Rural District Health Officer Tippeswamy said 598 passengers are under surveillance. “All international passengers who test negative for Covid-19 on arrival in Bengaluru will be put in quarantine for seven days,” he added. “They will be tested again after seven days.”
  6. Six passengers who returned from South Africa or other high-risk countries to Maharashtra have tested positive for the coronavirus, reported ANI. Maharashtra’s health department said the passengers are either asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. It added that their samples have been sent for genomic sequencing and contact tracing was underway. One of these passengers is a 60-year-old man who had returned from Zambia to Pune on November 25, after landing in Mumbai on November 20.
  7. Serum Institute of India Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla told NDTV that scientists were working on the Omicron variant and based on their findings, his company can come up with a new vaccine that could act as a booster dose. He, however, added that it was not necessary that a new version of vaccine would be required for the variant.
  8. The Delhi government has designated the Lok Nayak Hospital as the dedicated hospital to treat patients infected with the Omicron variant of coronavirus. Kejriwal said that the Delhi government was ordering a buffer stock of 32 medicine used for treatment of the coronavirus. He added the city had oxygen capacity of 750 metric tonnes and extra storage capacity of 442 metric tonnes has been prepared.
  9. The chief of drugmaker Moderna warned that the coronavirus vaccines currently in use are unlikely to be as effective against the Omicron variant. “There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level...we had with Delta [variant],” Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel told the Financial Times in an interview. Earlier, Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton had said that the company was testing its Covid-19 vaccine against the new variant as this strain needed to be “taken very seriously”.
  10. United States President Joe Biden told Americans that the new variant was a “cause for concern, not a cause for panic”, AFP reported. He ruled out new lockdowns or extending travel restrictions for now because of Omicron. “We have more tools today to fight the variant than we’ve ever had before,” Biden said.