Worrying Omicron Covid variant now detected in 9 countries as travel rules return

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In the past 24 hours health services in the UK, Italy, Germany and Australia have confirmed they have identified cases of the Omicron strain, while there are suspected instances in the Czech Republic and the Netherlands

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Boris Johnson outlines new travel measures

Cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed in Germany, Italy, Australia and the UK in the past 24 hours as countries being to reimpose travel restrictions.

It comes after Belgium became the first European country to announce it had identified the strain on Friday, while health officials in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic have identified suspected Omicron cases.

It has sparked a new wave of travel restrictions, with further countries likely to bring in measures to limit the spread of the variant.

Experts across the world are scrambling to determine whether Omicron is more deadly and whether it evades vaccines.

News of the variant’s spread have prompted alarm among world leaders, with Israel bringing in a blanket ban on international travellers.

The variant has now been detected in the UK, Germany, Italy, Belgium, South Africa, Australia, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.

Swiss police officers stand guard during a demonstration against Covid restrictions in Zurich

Additionally health authorities in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic yesterday said they believed they had identified cases, and were carrying out tests to confirm this.

Austria is also investigated suspected instances of the variant within its borders.

Yesterday Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed that two cases of the mutant strain had been found in the UK – one in Brentwood, Essex, and the other in Nottingham.

Last night Switzerland was among the first to respond to the UK’s announcement by stating that people arriving from these shores would have to isolate for 10 days, even after testing negative.

This morning officials in Australia announced two cases of the variant had been found in passengers arriving in Sydney from southern Africa.

Scientists are scrambling to find out if the variant is more deadly or evades vaccines

Both were asymptomatic, fully vaccinated and in quarantine, health officials in New South Wales said.

It follows in the footsteps of Germany and Italy confirming their own Omicron cases.

The German state of Bavaria announced two confirmed cases of the variant yesterday.

Meanwhile In Italy, the National Health Institute said a case of the new variant had been detected in Milan in a person coming from Mozambique.

On Friday Belgian authorities said a person travelling into the country from Egypt had been found to have the new Covid strain.

Boris Johnson yesterday announced new travel news for people arriving in the UK
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It is feared that the emergence of the Omicron variant, described by scientists as the most complex mutation yet, could prolong the pandemic further.

Israel said it would ban the entry of all foreigners into the country and reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to contain the spread of the variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement that the ban, pending government approval, would last 14 days.

Interior minister Ayelet Shaked said: “Our working hypotheses are that the variant is already in nearly every country, and that the vaccine is effective, although we don’t yet know to what degree.”

Yesterday Boris Johnson announced that people arriving in the UK from abroad would have to do a PCR test and isolate until they have confirmation of a negative result.

New rules were announced for people coming into the UK last night
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The variant, classified as “of concern” by the World Health Organisation (WHO), was first detected in South Africa, but it is not known where it originated.

Following its discovery countries across the world, including the UK, slapped travel restrictions on the country and a number of its neighbours.

South African officials have hit back, saying they are being penalised for scientific excellence.

Many countries have slapped restrictions on various southern African countries over the past couple of days, including Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Iran, Australia, New Zealand and the US, in response to warnings over the transmissibility of the new variant.

The UK put South Africa, Botswana, Lesostho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia on its red list on Friday, and yesterday added Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola.

Switzerland yesterday widened its quarantine rules to travellers arriving from Britain, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Egypt and Malawi, its health ministry said.

Anyone travelling from these countries will need need to present a negative Covid-19 test and quarantine for 10 days as well, the Federal Office of Public Health said in a tweet.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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