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Thursday January 27, 2022

UK confirms first two Omicron cases

Germany also announces first "likely" new COVID-19 strain case

By AFP
November 27, 2021
Travelers walk near an electronic flight notice board displaying canceled flights at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, on November 27, 2021. — AFP
Travelers walk near an electronic flight notice board displaying canceled flights at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, on November 27, 2021. — AFP

LONDON: Britain on Saturday confirmed its first two cases of the new Omicron strain of COVID-19, both linked to travel from southern Africa, and expanded travel restrictions on the region.

"After overnight genome sequencing, the UK Health Security Agency has confirmed that two cases of COVID-19 with mutations consistent with B.1.1.529 (Omicron) have been identified in the UK," a government statement said.

"The two cases are linked and there is a link to travel to southern Africa," it said.

One case was detected in the central English city of Nottingham, and the other in Chelmsford east of London, officials said.

"We have moved rapidly and the individuals are self-isolating while contact tracing is ongoing," Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.

He added that the government was placing another four African countries on its travel "red list" — Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola — effective from 4:00 am (0400 GMT) on Sunday.

Britain has already said it is banning travel from six southern African nations because of the emergence of Omicron: South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

The government was widely criticised for its travel and quarantine policy earlier in the pandemic, when it kept borders open to foreign travellers even as infection rates spiralled.

"This is a stark reminder that we are not yet out of this pandemic," Javid said, urging the public to get follow-up booster jabs of vaccines. "We will not hesitate to take further action if required."

Germany announces first 'likely' new COVID strain case

Separately, Germany also identified the country's first suspected case of the new COVID-19 variant, in a person who returned from South Africa.

"The Omicron variant has with strong likelihood already arrived in Germany," Kai Klose, social affairs minister in the western state of Hesse, tweeted, referring to the strain first detected in southern Africa.

Klose said that tests late Friday on the traveller revealed "several mutations typical of Omicron".

"As there is this strong suspicion, the person has been isolated at home. The full sequencing is still to be completed."

His ministry later said results were expected "in the coming days".

The person had arrived in Germany on November 21 at Frankfurt international airport, the country's busiest, the ministry said in a statement.

The person, who was fully vaccinated against coronavirus, developed symptoms "in the course of the week" and was then tested.

German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is expected to be sworn in as successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel early next month, stressed Saturday that his coalition would do "everything necessary" to fight "corona and Omicron".

"There is nothing which can't be considered," he tweeted, as calls grow louder for mandatory coronavirus vaccinations.

The suspect case in Germany follows Belgium saying on Friday it had detected the first announced case in Europe of the new COVID-19 variant, in an unvaccinated person returning from abroad.

EU officials agreed on Friday to urge all 27 nations in the bloc to restrict travel from several southern African nations, a policy Germany has already announced.