(BBC): Two men in the southern Indian state of Karnataka have tested positive for the Omicron coronavirus variant.
One of them, a 66-year-old South African national, had travelled from there and has already left India, officials said.
The second – a 46-year-old doctor in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru – has no travel history.
These are the first cases of the new Omicron variant to be reported in India.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that Omicron poses a “high infection risk”.
At a press briefing on Thursday, health officials said the two patients with the new strain had shown mild symptoms.
All their primary contacts and secondary contacts have been traced and are being tested.
According to an official release, five contacts of the 46-year old man have tested positive so far. The patients have been isolated and their samples have been sent for genome testing.
The South African national landed in Bengaluru on 20 November. He was screened at the airport and found to be Covid positive, following which he isolated himself in a hotel. Two days later, his samples were sent for genome sequencing, the official release said.
He also got himself tested at a private lab – and he got a negative result. On 27 November, he took a cab to the Bengaluru airport and left for Dubai.
Officials said 24 primary contacts and 240 secondary contacts of the man were traced, and all of them have tested negative.
Following the discovery of the two patients in Karnataka, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said he was monitoring the situation closely. “Our duty is now to track and trace such strains and their contacts wherever it’s found. We are already tracking and tracing international travellers,” he said.
Six samples from people who tested positive for Covid-19 in the national capital Delhi, and another six samples from the western state of Maharashtra, have also been sent for genome sequencing to determine the variant. Officials are still awaiting results. Several other cities and states are following suit.
Starting Wednesday, India announced new travel restrictions for international passengers arriving from “at risk” countries a list that includes UK, South Africa, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Hong Kong and Israel.
They will be tested on arrival and cannot leave the airport without their test results. Those who test positive will be isolated and treated, and their samples will be sent for genome sequencing. Those who test negative must quarantine at home for seven days and get tested again on the eighth day.