India tells states to be on the alert as Omicron cases double

NEW DELHI, Dec 21 (Reuters) - India told state governments on Tuesday to be proactive and on the lookout for surges of the Omicron coronavirus variant after cases nearly doubled within a week across a dozen states.

India, whose already creaking health system became overwhelmed by COVID cases in the summer, has recorded 200 Omicron infections, mostly in the western state of Maharashtra and the nation's capital New Delhi, the health ministry said.

Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said states could take containment measures including night curfews and allow fewer people at offices and on public transport should there be a surge.

States were allowed to impose restrictions if the rate of new infections reached 10% or higher in a week or 40% of oxygen or ICU beds were occupied. But given the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, Bhushan told states to impose such measures even if the surge was not that high.

"Keeping in mind the higher transmissibility of Omicron, States/UTs (union territories) can take containment measures and restrictions even before these thresholds are reached," he said in a letter to state governments.

"Kindly activate the War rooms/EOCs (Emergency Operation Centre) and keep analysing all trends and surges, no matter how small and keep taking proactive action at the district/local level."

There have been no Omicron deaths reported so far. In less than 40% of cases, patients either fully recovered or were discharged, the data showed.

India, which has the world's second largest number of confirmed COVID-19 infections after the United States, has been accelerating its vaccination campaign amid fears of potential surges in infections, with at least one dose given to 87% of the eligible 944 million adults.

India recorded 5,326 new COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours, the lowest overnight tally in more than one and a half years. The country has reported 34.75 million cases.

Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya told parliament on Monday that 80% of Omicron cases were asymptomatic.

"We are keeping an eye on the variant and in coming days, we will monitor its effects," Mandaviya said.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal urged citizens to wear masks and appealed to the federal government to allow booster doses. Delhi had fully vaccinated about 70% of its adult population of 15 million, Kejriwal said.

Reporting by Neha Arora; Editing by Stephen Coates and Nick Macfie

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.