India advises states to step up COVID testing; Mumbai delays school reopening

A boy reacts as a healthcare worker collects a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test swab sample near a bus terminal in New Delhi, India, November 30, 2021. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

BENGALURU (Reuters) - India's health ministry said on Tuesday states should ramp up COVID-19 testing as the world battles the new coronavirus variant Omicron, while some cities delayed the reopening of schools as a precautionary measure.

The ministry also said the Omicron variant "doesn't escape RT-PCR and RAT (testing)", appeasing some concerns among domestic health workers that changes in the spike protein of the virus could lead to conventional tests failing to detect the variant.

It comes as the ministry warned state governments last week that a recent fall in testing could undermine India's efforts to contain the pandemic.

While India has not reported any Omicron cases yet, authorities are studying the sample of a man who tested positive for COVID-19 after recently returning from South Africa to see if he is infected with the Omicron or another variant.

Also on Tuesday, Mumbai's municipal corporation said it was delaying reopening schools for younger children to Dec. 15 instead of Wednesday as a precautionary measure given the global situation involving Omicron. In-person classes for senior students began about two months ago.

The city of Pune, which is also located in the western state of Maharashtra, has also postponed the reopening of schools, local media reported.

After battling a record jump in infections and deaths in April and May, cases have come down substantially in India.

Its COVID-19 cases rose by 6,990 on Tuesday - the smallest increase in 551 days - to 34.59 million. Only the United States has reported more total infections.

Deaths rose by 190, taking the total to 468,980, health ministry data showed.

(Reporting by Anuron Kumar Mitra in Bengaluru and Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

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