First omicron cases detected in India

India on Thursday confirmed its first cases of the omicron COVID-19 variant in two men who returned from international travel. 

The men, 66 and 46, tested positive for the variant in the southern Indian state of Karnataka and are under observation, according to The Associated Press. It is not known which country they traveled to or whether they were vaccinated. 

All contacts of the men have reportedly been traced and tested for the virus. 

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Balram Bhargava, head of the Indian Council of Medical Research, the country's top medical research organization, urged people to get vaccinated as soon as possible. 

“Increased vaccine uptake is the need of the hour. Don’t delay in getting fully vaccinated,” he said, according to the AP.

Several countries have already been classified by officials in India as "at risk" in response to the variant, which the World Health Organization said poses a “very high” risk of infection. Travelers from the "at risk" countries are reportedly tested upon arrival to India. In addition, 2 percent of international travelers are also randomly selected for COVID-19 testing.

Health policy expert Chandrakant Lahariya told the AP that the focus should be on making sure unvaccinated residents receive the jab.

“Some of the hesitancy may disappear on the news of the new variant," he said. "But this can’t be taken for granted."

Some states in India have also enforced strict restrictions on international arrivals, including mandatory COVID-19 tests for travelers from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong, the news service noted.

Nearly 57 percent of Indians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 32 percent fully vaccinated and 24 percent having received a single jab, according to Our World In Data.