The new hyper-mutated Omicron variant of Covid-19 will not affect India as badly as Delta did early this year, yet the country cannot be complacent but must be careful and alert, said a top virologist.

The Omicron variant, thought to be more virulent than its predecessor Delta, was first identified in South Africa in November and has since spread to more than 60 countries around the world.

“India in December 2021 is very different from India in March 2021,” Dr. Shahid Jameel, a visiting scientist at Ashoka University, told a news agency.

“Both in terms of numbers of, you know, the vaccination percentage as well as exposure to the virus. India has had a very, very bad second wave. And because of that, the blessing in disguise is that many of us got exposed to the virus.

“I think even if we get high numbers of infections, the rate of severe disease rate of hospitalization is going to be lower than what we saw in Delta,” added Jameel, who is also Fellow at Green Templeton College, University of Oxford.

Besides South Africa, the Omicron strain has surged Covid cases in many countries including France, Russia, the US, and Israel.

In the UK, it is expected to replace Delta as the dominant variant and the UK Health Security Agency estimates that the number of daily infections could touch 200,000.

Jameel said the national sero survey has shown that a majority of Indians have already been exposed to the virus. So while “India, so far, has about 40-odd reported cases of Omicron and the rise in India has not been as fast as the rise in the UK”.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “preliminary data doesn’t indicate that this is more severe”.

“In fact, if anything, the direction is towards less severity,” said WHO Emergencies Director Michael Ryan.

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