Omicron variant: Scientist warns how infectious strain may be
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South Africa is where the new Omicron variant was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) this week. The new Covid strain has now been identified in six other countries around the world but it’s feared it has already infiltrated many more. Here, Express.co.uk takes a deeper look at the Omicron variant and where it’s been identified so far.
The emergence of the Omicron Covid variant – initially named B.1.1.529 – was first reported to the WHO on Wednesday.
Health officials have said early evidence of the variant suggests that it contains many mutations and that there is a higher risk of reinfection.
The Omicron strain’s emergence has led to many countries, including the UK, US and Australia, introducing travel bans and restrictions on nations from southern Africa.
Since first being reported on Wednesday the variant has been identified in six other countries spread across Africa, Europe and Asia.
South Africa’s northern neighbour, Botswana, is the only other country in Africa to have officially identified a case of the Omicron variant at this point.
Yesterday the Belgium Health Minister, Frank Vandenbroucke, confirmed that the country had become the first in Europe to identify a case of the strain.
Belgian officials later revealed that the variant was detected in a traveller returning from Egypt.
The four remaining countries to have identified cases of the Omicron variant are Germany, Czech Republic, Israel and Hong Kong.
The Omicron strain has prompted many global powers to introduce travel bans and restrictions on travellers from nations in southern Africa in an attempt to stop it from spreading.
On Thursday, the UK announced that people travelling from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini would not be able to enter the country unless they are UK or Irish nationals, or UK residents.
The US has introduced similar measures that are poised to come into effect on Monday.
Several European countries, such as France, Italy and Germany, have imposed restrictions on travellers from South Africa and neighbouring countries that include a 14 day quarantine period for all regardless of their vaccination status.
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The European Commission has urged all EU countries to follow suit.
In a statement on Friday the Commission’s President, Ursula von der Leyen, said that “all air travel to these countries should be suspended”.
Other countries to have put in place travel restrictions include Australia, Japan, India, Brazil, Canada, Thailand and Iran.
The WHO has said that the number of cases of the Omicron variant appeared to be growing across all of South Africa’s provinces.
In a statement the UN public health body said: “This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning.”
WHO officials say it will take several weeks before they can understand how transmissible the new variant is.
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