India reports first Omicron cases, no plan to authorise boosters

FILE PHOTO: Students apply finishing touches to paintings made to create an awareness against the new coronavirus Omicron variant, in Mumbai, India, November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Niharika Kulkarni

BENGALURU (Reuters) - India reported its first two cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant on Thursday 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 Nov. 23 after feeling unwell, have also tested positive and their samples were being investigated to determine the variant.

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 944 million 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.

Several lawmakers urged the government on Thursday to consider boosters for healthcare workers and the vulnerable, given that states had a stockpile of nearly 230 million 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 on Thursday, taking the total to 34.61 million. Deaths rose by 477 to 469,724.

(Reporting by Anuron Kumar Mitra, Krishna N. Das and Chandini Monappa; Editing by Nick Macfie, Bernadette Baum and Mark Heinrich)

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