A sharp rise in Covid-19 cases in India over the past week has sparked fears that a third wave, driven by Omicron, is around the corner.
The country reported 16,764 new infections and 220 deaths on Friday for the last 24 hours.
This is the highest single-day increase in cases since October.
The jump appears to be the starkest in densely packed metros such as the national capital, Delhi, financial hub Mumbai and Kolkata city.
Mumbai reported 3,671 new cases on Friday, up 46% from the previous daily total – cases in Delhi (1,313) were up by 42%, and in Kolkata (1,090) by 102% in just 48 hours.
India experienced a devastating second wave in April and May, with daily averages of around 400,000 cases at the peak of the crisis. Caseloads dropped significantly since then – for many months the national tally remained well under 10,000 cases a day.
But officials and experts fear that the new highly transmissible Omicron variant is starting to fuel a third wave.
It accounted for 309 fresh infections on Friday – taking the total number of Omicron cases in India to 1,270 cases. Maharasthra state, where Mumbai is located, has reported he highest Omicron cases (450) so far, followed by Delhi (320).
The variant, which was first discovered in South Africa in November, has since spread fast across the world, dampening Christmas and New Year celebrations.
Many countries, including India, have imposed travel restrictions after the World Health Organization (WHO) designated it a variant of concern.
Preliminary studies published in the UK and South Africa suggest that fewer people infected with Omicron need hospital treatment when compared with other variants.
But experts still advise caution as the infectious nature of the variant could lead to a surge in cases, increasing the load on already strained healthcare systems.