India reported its first two cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant yesterday but the government said it had no immediate plan to authorise booster vaccine shots despite demands from lawmakers.
The federal health ministry said two male patients with the new strain, aged 66 and 46 years, had shown mild symptoms.
The health minister of the southern state of Karnataka, where the cases were detected, said the first person, a South African national, spent a week in India and left last Saturday after testing negative.
More than 250 of his contacts have tested negative.
The second one, an Indian physician, had no recent travel history, minister Sudhakar K told reporters. Both are fully vaccinated.
Five more contacts of the doctor, who isolated himself on November 23 after feeling unwell, have also tested positive and their samples were being investigated to determine the variant.
India has yet to impose new blanket international travel bans but on Monday the health ministry ordered all inbound travellers from “countries at-risk” to undergo mandatory post-arrival Covid testing, along with the random testing of other international arrivals.
The nation’s biggest city Mumbai on Wednesday imposed mandatory seven-day quarantines for all passengers arriving from at-risk countries.
India, which suffered a record surge in infections and deaths in April and May due to the Delta variant, has fully vaccinated just 49% of its 944mn adults despite having ample supplies of domestically made shots.
About 84% have received at least one dose, while those under 18 have yet to be inoculated.
Gautam Menon, a professor at India’s Ashoka University who has worked on Covid-19 modelling, said it was likely the Omicron variant entered India before it was first reported in South Africa, “since there were some delays in testing samples”.
Several lawmakers urged the government yesterday to consider boosters for healthcare workers and the vulnerable, given that states had a stockpile of nearly 230mn vaccine doses.
But health officials reiterated the priority was to fully inoculate all adults first.
“We must not deviate from our goal of administering two doses in each eligible individual,” said senior health official Vinod Kumar Paul, adding there was no plan to shorten the duration between two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
There were 9,765 new cases in India yesterday, taking the total to 34.61mn. Deaths rose by 477 to 469,724.