The Indian health ministry says that all primary and secondary contacts of the two infected men are being monitored and tested.

The country has yet to impose new blanket international travel bans.
The country has yet to impose new blanket international travel bans. (Rafiq Maqbool / AP)

India has announced its first two cases of the highly infectious Omicron Covid-19 variant, months after a devastating wave of the virus killed more than 200,000 people around the country.

Two men in southern Karnataka state, aged 66 and 46, have tested positive for the variant, a top health ministry official Luv Agarwal said on Thursday.

"As per the protocols all their primary and secondary contacts have been traced and are being tested," he told a press briefing. 

The country has yet to impose new blanket international travel bans but on Monday the health ministry ordered all inbound travellers from "countries at-risk" to undergo mandatory post-arrival Covid testing, along with the random testing of other international arrivals.

READ MORE: UN: Travel bans on African states over Omicron are 'ineffective'

The nation's biggest city Mumbai on Wednesday imposed mandatory seven-day quarantines for all passengers arriving from at-risk countries.

India has the world's second-highest number of cases, with more than 34 million confirmed infections.

Its nearly 470,000 Covid deaths are the third-highest, behind the tolls in the United States and Brazil.

But under-reporting is widespread and some studies have estimated India's true toll could be up to ten times higher.

The country has since administered more than 1.2 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses but only around a third of the population is fully vaccinated, according to government data. 

New challenge

Omicron, first discovered in southern Africa, represents a fresh challenge to global efforts to battle the pandemic with several nations already re-imposing restrictions many had hoped were a thing of the past.

It is the latest coronavirus strain to emerge since the start of the pandemic, including the currently dominant Delta variant, which was first detected in India in October 2020.

It struck after one of the world's biggest religious gatherings, the Kumbh Mela, which attracted around 25 million Hindu pilgrims.

That gathering, along with large state election rallies, was blamed by experts for fuelling the Delta surge.

READ MORE: Findings indicate Omicron was in Europe before South Africa detected it

Source: TRTWorld and agencies