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HomeCoronavirusUK detects Omicron cases, as more countries eye new COVID-19 variant

UK detects Omicron cases, as more countries eye new COVID-19 variant

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In the latest Omicron (B.1.1.529) COVID-19 variant developments, countries reported more suspected cases and more travel bans took effect, including one imposed by the United States yesterday.

Meanwhile, new details emerged about the initial spread in and beyond Africa.

Cases identified in United Kingdom

Health officials in the United Kingdom said today that they have identified two people who tested positive for the Omicron variant, the Associated Press reports. UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the cases were linked and related to travel from southern Africa. Cases have also been identified in Israel, Belgium, and Hong Kong.

Yesterday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said no cases have been identified in the United States so far and that it is grateful to South Africa’s government and scientists for their transparency about the new variant, which was first identified in the country.

“We expect Omicron to be identified quickly, if it emerges in the US,” the CDC said, urging people to take known steps for curbing the spread of COVID-19, including vaccination, distancing, and masking.

President Joe Biden said yesterday that the United States will bar noncitizen travelers from eight African nations beginning on Nov 29. They include South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.

The United States joins several countries that have banned flights from South Africa and related destinations. Yesterday European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said the group asked member states to apply an “emergency brake” on travel from southern African countries until officials have a clearer picture on the risk the Omicron variant poses.

More Omicron updates

  • South African health officials at a briefing today said besides an alarming increase in cases, they’re seeing a change in demographic patterns, with the major burden in young people in their 20s and 30s, some with moderate to severe disease, according to the Associated Press. About two thirds are unvaccinated.
  • Several European countries are investigating suspected or probable cases, including the Netherlands, Germany, and the Czech Republic.
  • In Hong Kong, a person who had traveled from South Africa and was quarantined apparently passed the variant to someone else at the hotel, according to an update from the Centre for Health Protection. It said the sequences were similar to the variant sequences from South Africa and Botswana.
  • In an initial risk assessment yesterday, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said the risk from the Omicron variant is high to very high. It notes that the first detected samples of the variant, from Nov 11, were from Botswana.
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