The United Kingdom’s health authorities have registered two confirmed cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said today.
“We have been made aware [by the UK Health Security Agency] of two UK cases of the Omicron variant. The two cases are linked and there is a connection with travel to southern Africa. These individuals are self-isolating with their households while further testing and contact tracing is underway,” he tweeted.
The U.K. is adding Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola to its travel “red list” from early Sunday morning. On Friday, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini were added to the list, bringing a temporary suspension of flights and strict controls on travellers. The Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa.
Residents from outside the U.K. or Ireland who have been in those countries over the past 10 days will refused entry into England. UK and Irish residents have to isolate in a government-approved facility for 10 days.
Javid said extra targeted testing is being rolled out around the cities of Nottingham and Chelmsford, where the Omicron cases were found, including sequencing all positive cases.
“This is a fast-moving situation and we are taking decisive steps to protect public health,” he said.
Omicron was classified as a “variant of concern” by the WHO on Friday and as a high risk variant by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control due to “serious concerns that it may significantly reduce the effectiveness of vaccines and increase the risk of reinfections.”
It was first detected in Europe in Belgium on Friday. Dutch authorities on Saturday said that 61 travellers from South Africa tested positive for the coronavirus, and researchers are ascertaining whether it is the Omicron variant. Kai Klose, state minister president for the German state of Hesse, on Friday night tweeted that “several mutations typical of Omicron were found” on a passenger returning from South Africa, but full genetic sequencing is still pending.
The European Union on Friday moved to ban travel from seven Southern African countries. The U.S. and several other countries are taking similar steps.
The South African government lamented such bans, saying it’s being punished for efficiently detecting variants and sharing data openly, suggesting the restrictions might discourage others from coming forward.
“Whilst we respect the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, we need to remember that this pandemic requires collaboration and sharing of expertise. Our immediate concern is the damage that these restrictions are causing to families, the travel and tourism industries and business,” South African Minister for International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor said in a statement.