First case of Omicron variant confirmed in Italy

Rome: The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been identified in a citizen from Italy’s Southern Campania region, who returned to Milan from Mozambique some days ago, Italian news agency ANSA reported Sunday.

The patient, an employee at an international company, had been vaccinated with two doses, ANSA reported.

On Sunday, the Campania region said in a statement that a citizen returning from southern Africa has tested positive, as did his family of five people. All his contacts have been immediately placed in isolation as a precautionary measure.

The genome was sequenced at Sacco Hospital in Milan from a positive sample taken from an individual coming from Mozambique. The patient and his family contacts are in good health, said the National Institute of Health on Saturday.

The World Health Organization declared on Friday the latest variant B.1.1.529 of SARS-CoV-2 to be of concern, its most serious level, and officially gave it the Greek name Omicron. The WHO has asked countries to enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to fight the new variant. On Friday, Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza signed a travel ban on people who have visited South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini and Malawi in the past 14 days.

Dutch health authorities announced that the 13 cases of the variant were found among passengers who were on flights from South Africa that arrived in Amsterdam on Friday.

The discovery of Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” last week by the World Health Organization, has sparked worries around the world that it could resist vaccinations and prolong the nearly two-year COVID-19 pandemic.

First discovered in South Africa, the variant has since been detected in Britain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.

Health officials in Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, said two passengers who arrived in Sydney from southern Africa on Saturday evening had tested positive for the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Both people were asymptomatic, fully vaccinated and in quarantine, NSW Health said. Another 12 passengers from southern Africa were also in 14 days of hotel quarantine, while around 260 other passengers and aircrew have been directed to isolate.

Austria was investigating a suspected case on Sunday and in France Health Minister Olivier Veran said the new variant was probably already circulating there.

Omicron is potentially more contagious than previous variants, although experts do not know yet if it will cause more or less severe COVID-19 compared to other strains.

Countries have imposed a wave of travel bans or curbs on southern Africa. Financial markets dived on Friday as investors worried that the variant could stall a global recovery. Oil prices tumbled by about $10 a barrel.

On Sunday, most Gulf stock markets fell sharply in early trade, with the Saudi index suffering its biggest single-day fall in nearly two years. read more

In the most far-reaching effort to keep the variant at bay, Israel announced late on Saturday it would ban the entry of all foreigners and reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to contain the spread of the variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the ban, pending government approval, would last 14 days. Officials hope that within that period there will be more information on how effective vaccines are against Omicron.

Many countries have imposed or are planning restrictions on travel from southern Africa. The South African government denounced this on Saturday as unfair and potentially harmful to its economy – saying it is being punished for its scientific ability to identify coronavirus variants early.

In Britain, where two linked cases of Omicron identified on Saturday were connected to travel to southern Africa, the government announced measures to try to contain the spread, including stricter testing rules for people arriving in the country and requiring mask wearing in some settings.

British health minister Sajid Javid said on Sunday he expected to receive advice imminently on whether the government can broaden a programme of providing booster shots to fully vaccinated people, to try to weaken the impact of the variant.

 

Agency