Two cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus have been detected in Karnataka, the Centre said on Thursday. These are the first cases of the new variant of the virus that have been found in India.

The infected persons are two men aged 66 and 46, Union Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said at a press conference.

“All their contacts have been identified and they are under monitoring,” Agarwal added.

Five contacts of the 46-year old man have tested positive, and they have been isolated, Gaurav Gupta, the chief of Bengaluru’s civic body Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike said at a press briefing, The News Minute reported. None of the contacts of the 66-year old tested positive, Gupta said.

The 46-year-old man did not have any travel history, a note from the civic body showed. He works at a hospital in the Karnataka capital. He tested positive on November 22 and stayed in home isolation till November 24 before getting admitted to a hospital. He was discharged after receiving treatment for three days days on November 27.

It has not yet been confirmed if those who contracted the virus from him have also been infected by the Omicron variant. Altogether, he had 13 primary contacts and 205 secondary contacts.

The 66-year old man is a South African, who landed in Bengaluru on November 20 and tested positive on the same day at a hotel where he had checked in, Gupta told reporters. A doctor from an Urban Primary Health Centre examined him and found him to be asymptomatic. The patient’s samples were sent for genomic sequencing on November 22.

However, when the man took a Covid-19 test at a private lab in Bengaluru, his results were negative. Subsequently, 24 close contacts of the man were traced and tested. They too were negative.

The 66-year-old man left for Dubai on November 27.

Following the discovery of two patients in Karnataka, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said that they are being cautious about the Covid-19 situation in the state, ANI reported. “Our duty is now to track and trace such strains and their contacts wherever it’s found,” he said. “We are already tracking and tracing international travellers.”

The chief minister said that a meeting will be held with details of Omicron cases and the new standard operating protocols that are to be issued to combat the new variant. “We are trying to get the experts’ view and government of India’s guidelines on this,” Bommai said.

Meanwhile, at the Centre’s press conference, health ministry secretary Agarwal noted that patients infected by the Omicron variant in other countries have showed mild symptoms so far.

So far, 373 cases of the Omicron variant have been reported across 29 countries. The variant was first detected in South Africa on November 24. Last week, the World Health Organization classified the strain as a “variant of concern”.

Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, the regional director of WHO South-East Asia Region, told that the confirmation of Omicron variant in India was not unexpected “in view of the interconnected world”.

“This emphasises on the need for all countries to step up surveillance, to be on alert and rapidly detect any importation and take measures to curtail further spread of the virus,” she said.

Singh suggested that the government must take comprehensive and “tailored public health” measures to curb the spread of the virus. She also recommended people to adhere to Covid-appropriate behaviour.

According to the World Health Organization, the Omicron variant has about 45-52 mutations with 26-32 mutation in spike proteins. Spike proteins help a virus gain entry into host cell. So, the higher number of mutations of the Omicron variant help the virus in a faster entry into human cells.

Some mutations that were found in the earlier detected Alpha, Delta, Gamma and Beta variants are also present in the Omicron strain. Initial data suggests Omicron has a faster growth rate and higher transmissibility compared to other variants. However, more evidence is required to confirm these characteristics.

So far, this variant has not resulted in increase of cases with severe symptoms, or a rise in fatality rate. South Africa has noted an uptick in cases that needed hospitalisation. However, that could also be due to rise in number of cases, and not increased virulence.