India’s Covid-19 cases are rising again as several states grapple with a growing number of infections attributed to the omicron variant.
There were 37,379 new cases reported over a 24-hour period, government data showed Tuesday. That was the highest reported figure since September and marked a sharp jump from the 6,358 cases reported a week earlier on Dec. 28.
The state of Maharashtra, which is home to India’s financial hub Mumbai, has so far detected 568 cases of the omicron variant while the capital territory of Delhi reported 382 cases. Together, they account for around half of all cases in India attributed to the new heavily mutated strain.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted on Tuesday that he tested positive for Covid and was experiencing “mild symptoms.” He said he was self-isolating at home and urged close contacts to do the same and get tested.
Omicron was first identified by South African scientists in November. The variant has rapidly spread around the globe, with places like the United States and the United Kingdom reporting massive surges.
Initial data from South Africa, England and Scotland released last month indicated that people infected with omicron are significantly less likely to require hospitalization compared with those who contracted other Covid strains like delta.
While governments try to assess the severity of the variant, scientists stress that it is too early to definitively say whether omicron is milder. A high number of cases due to the strain’s greater transmissibility may still overwhelm health-care systems.
India suffered a massive second wave of Covid cases last year, driven partly by the delta variant that was first detected in the country in October 2020 as well as large religious gatherings and election rallies. As daily infection and death rates rose at an alarming pace, the crisis pushed India’s health-care system to the brink.
Since then, India has stepped up vaccination efforts. Last October, it crossed a milestone of administering 1 billion doses. Around 44% of the country’s population is now fully vaccinated.
A number of Indian states are headed to the polls between February and March, including the populous state of Uttar Pradesh.