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Omicron Covid variant: UK detects two cases of new strain — Key developments

The World Health Organization, naming the new variant B.1.1.529 as Omicron, has designated the strain with "a large number of mutations" as a "variant of concern”.

The new potentially more contagious variant of Covid-19 has rung alarm bells across the globe, prompting nations to impose restrictions on travel from affected regions, especially South Africa where the strain was first detected by scientists.

The World Health Organization (WHO), naming the new variant B.1.1.529 as Omicron, on Friday designated the strain with “a large number of mutations” as a “variant of concern”, the fifth variant to be given the designation.

Here are the key developments from around the world:

Two cases of coronavirus Omicron variant detected in UK

Two new cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in Britain, said Britain health minister Sajid Javid adding that the cases are in connection to travel to southern Africa.

Javid said, “Late last night I was contacted by the UK Health Security Agency. I was informed that they have detected two cases of this new variant, Omicron, in the United Kingdom. One in Chelmsford, the other in Nottingham.”

The two identified cases and their household members have been asked to self-isolate and are being retested.

To its “red list” of countries that England has imposed travel curbs on, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola have been added. Earlier the list contained Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Countries across the world impose travel bans against South Africa

Australia, the United States, Brazil, Canada and many European Union nations have announced travel bans or restrictions on passengers travelling from South Africa.

Japan has imposed travel curbs on African countries including South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Lesotho. Sri Lanka, Thailand and Oman have also announced travel bans on South African nations.

Since many European nations have been seeing a surge in cases, a few nations, including Austria and Slovakia, have entered lockdowns.

Suspected cases of Omicron in Germany and the Czech Republic

Suspected cases of Omicron, which has been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong, have been found in Germany and the Czech Republic.

A German minister in the state of Hesse announced on Saturday the possibility of the new variant arriving in Germany in a traveller returning from South Africa.

Similarly, Czech authorities have announced that the health officials were examining a possible case of the variant in a person who spent time in Namibia.

South Africa says it is being punished for early Covid variant detection

Amid travel bans imposed on South Africa due to the new variant Omicron, South African authorities on Saturday said the country was being punished for its advanced ability to detect Covid variants at an early stage.

“This latest round of travel bans is akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker,” the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation said.

61 out of 600 travellers from South Africa test positive in the Netherlands

Dutch authorities have isolated 61 travellers who arrived in the Netherlands on two flights from South Africa, from Johannesburg and Cape Town.

The planes arrived in The Netherlands before the country imposed travel bans on flights from South Africa.

The 61 people who tested positive for Covid-19 are being further tested to check if they are infected with the Omicron variant.

PM Modi asked officials to review international travel restrictions

Amid the concerns over the new variant, PM Modi has asked officials to be proactive and to review easing international travel restrictions in light of the “emerging new evidence”.

Holding a meeting with top health ministry officials on Saturday Prime Minister Narendra Modi, discussed the new variant Omicron along with its characteristics, impact in various countries, and its implications for India.

Modi also underlined that the intensive containment and active surveillance of new Covid-19 cases should continue in clusters reporting higher cases.

The Prime Minister stressed the need to monitor all international arrivals with a special focus on “at risk” countries.

UK Labour Party calls for quicker Covid booster jabs amid new variant concerns

Britain’s main opposition Labour Party on Saturday said that the country should cut the gaps between the second dose of covid-19 vaccination and booster jabs should be made available in five months, instead of pre-decided six.

Labour’s junior health spokesman Alex Norris said the new variant was a “wake-up call”. “The pandemic is not over. We need to urgently bolster our defences to keep the virus at bay.”

(Inputs from agencies)

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