The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is at least three times more transmissible than the disease’s Delta strain, the Centre said on Tuesday, citing recent scientific evidence. In a letter to chief to states and Union Territories, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan outlined the measures required to contain the spread of the infection caused by the new variant.

Bhusan warned that besides Omicron, the Delta variant was also present in different parts of the country.

“Hence, even greater foresight, data analysis, dynamic decision making and strict and prompt containment action is required at the local and district level,” Bhushan said. “The decision making at the state/UT [Union Territories] and district level must be very prompt and focussed.”

The health secretary said that the states should constantly review emerging data at the district level on various aspects like population affected by Covid-19, hospital infrastructure and geographical spread of the infection.

He advised that if the positivity rate of cases in a district is more than 10%, or over 40% of oxygen-supported and intensive care unit hospital beds are occupied for a week, the authorities should immediately enforce strict containment measures and restrictions.

“Such a strategy ensures that infection is contained at the local level itself before it spreads
to other parts of the state,” Bhushan said.

The health secretary said that the states could enforce containment measures even before these thresholds are reached, depending on the local situation and the rate of transmissibility of the Omicron variant.

As part of the containment measures, Bhushan advised steps like imposing night curfews, regulating large gatherings, limiting the number of people allowed in marriage and funerals, restricting number of people allowed in offices and public transport

He added that in case a cluster of infections is detected, samples of all patients should be sent to the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium labs for genome sequencing.

The health secretary also advised ramping up testing and surveillance, increasing hospital bed capacity, and other logistics at hospitals, including availability of oxygen and keeping a buffer stock of drugs.

He asked the states to ensure 100% vaccination coverage and focus on districts that have less immunisation rate than the national average in terms of first as well as second dose.

“Kindly activate the war rooms/EOCs [emergency operations centers] and keep analyzing all trends and surges, no matter how small and keep taking proactive action at the district/local level,” Bhushan added.

The Omicron variant, which has a large number of mutations, was first detected in South Africa on November 24. Two days later, the World Health Organization declared it a “variant of concern”.

Omicron has spread to 89 countries as of December 16, according the global health body.

On December 17, the World Health Organization had said that number of cases of the variant is doubling in 1.5 to 3 days in areas with community transmission.