The omicron variant spreads across Europe as new travel bans take effect


The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated a new coronavirus strain detected in South Africa as a “variant of concern”, prompting countries around the world to impose travel restrictions amid fears over its potential spread.

A WHO advisory panel on Friday said early evidence shows the new B.1.1529 variant, which it dubbed Omicron after a letter in the Greek alphabet, poses an increased risk of reinfection compared with other highly transmissible strains.

Global authorities reacted with alarm to the emergence of Omicron, which was first found in South Africa and has since been detected in Belgium, Israel, Botswana and Hong Kong.

The European Union and the United Kingdom have imposed restrictions on travellers from several countries in southern Africa as researchers seek to find out if the mutation was vaccine-resistant, while the United States announced that similar curbs would begin on Monday.

The omicron strain of the coronavirus is cropping up across Europe, with cases detected in two people in the United Kingdom, two in Germany and at least one in Italy, as the latest variant of concern spreads around the world.

A number of countries, including the U.S., have initiated travel bans against South Africa — where the rapidly circulating new strain was first identified on Nov. 24 — as well as seven other southern African nations. Extra testing and self-isolation measures for travelers from those countries are also in place.

The two people arrived at Munich airport in Germany on Wednesday, according to a statement by the Bavarian Ministry of Health and Care. It says another 50 people who arrived from Cape Town on Friday are in quarantine.



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