Britain, Germany and Italy detected cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant yesterday, even as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new steps to contain the virus, while more nations imposed restrictions on travel from southern Africa.
The discovery of the variant has sparked global concern, a wave of travel bans or curbs and a sell-off on financial markets on Friday as investors worried that Omicron could stall a global recovery from the nearly two-year pandemic.
British Health Minister Sajid Javid said the two linked cases of the new variant detected in Britain were connected to travel to southern Africa.
Speaking later, Johnson laid out measures that included stricter testing rules for people arriving in the country but that stopped short of curbs on social activity other than requiring mask wearing in some settings.
Johnson said: “Our scientists are learning more hour by hour, and it does appear that Omicron spreads very rapidly and can be spread between people who are double vaccinated.”
“We will require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival and to self-isolate until they have a negative result,” Johnson told a news conference.
People who had come into contact with people testingpositive for a suspected case of Omicron would have toself-isolate for 10 days and the government would tighten up therules on wearing face coverings, Johnson said, adding the stepswould be reviewed in three weeks.
The Health Ministry in the German State of Bavaria also announced two confirmed cases of the variant. The two people entered Germany at Munich airport on Nov. 24, before Germany designated South Africa as a virus-variant area, and were now isolating, said the Ministry, indicating without stating explicitly that the people had travelled from South Africa.
In Italy, the National Health Institute said a case of the new variant had been detected in Milan in a person coming from Mozambique.
Czech health authorities also said they were examining a suspected case of the variant in a person who spent time in Namibia.
Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, is potentially more than previous variants of the disease, although experts do notknow yet if it will cause more or less severe COVID-19 compared to other strains.
England’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Witty, said at the same news conference as Johnson that there was still much uncertainty around Omicron, but “there is a reasonable chance that at least there will be some degree of vaccine escape with this variant”.
The variant was first discovered in South Africa and had also since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.