The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in Australia in two people who were vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Although the lethality of the variant is very uncertain, the fact that it exists and that the World Health Organization labeled it as a variant of concern on Friday has sparked an international response to seek out travelers who have brought the virus into their countries and seal off travel.
Health officials in New South Wales, Australia’s most heavily populated state, confirmed Sunday that the variant was already there.
“NSW Health can confirm urgent genomic testing undertaken today shows two overseas travelers have been infected with the new Omicron B.1.1.529 COVID-19 variant of concern,” New South Wales Health said in a statement on its website.
The statement said the two people with the variant “came to Sydney from southern Africa on the evening of Saturday, November 27. They underwent testing on arrival and tested positive for COVID-19 late last night.”
“Both people are fully vaccinated,” the statement noted, adding that the two infected individuals are in isolation.
The two infected people were among 14 people who came from southern Africa by way of Qatar. The 12 people not showing any infection are in quarantine for the next 14 days.
The remaining 260 passengers and crew members on the flight have been ordered to isolate, violation of which is a crime in Australia.
Omicron still not fully understood – is transmission faster, does it reduce vaccine efficacy, is it as hard to mitigate outbreaks Delta? Until +90% vacc coverage of total pop (not just +12yr) quarantine must be supervised for every traveller from every country. Test day-1, 4, 5.
— Mary-Louise McLaws (@MarylouiseMcla1) November 28, 2021
Australia imposed restrictions Saturday on travelers from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique, according to Reuters.
New Zealand on Sunday announced that it will only allow into the country its own citizens who travel from those countries, and even those people will be shipped off to 14 days of isolation.
On Sunday, Dutch officials said at least 13 cases of the Omicron variant were found in a population of 61 coronavirus-positive passengers who flew in from South Africa on Friday in two separate flights, according to The New York Times.
Denmark on Sunday said it has also confirmed a case of the new variant on a traveler who recently entered the county from southern Africa.
British health officials identified a third case of the variant. Italy, Belgium and Israel have also found the variant among travelers from southern Africa.
France, which has blocked arrivals from southern Africa, has no cases yet. On Friday, France also suspended arrivals from seven southern African countries even though the new variant had not yet been detected in the country.
“It’s probably a question of hours, let’s be honest,” Olivier Véran, the health minister, told the Times, noting that a “new variant doesn’t necessarily mean new wave, or that the variant is more dangerous.”
“To be safe, we are acting as though this variant is potentially dangerous.”
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