Two people in the United Kingdom have tested positive with the omicron variant of the coronavirus, a new contagious strain that has spurred governments to shut down travel from southern Africa.
U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed on Saturday that two people in the towns of Chelmsford and Nottingham have been infected with the variant. He said the two cases were linked and connected with travel to southern Africa.
“These individuals are self-isolating with their households while further testing and contact tracing is underway,” Mr. Javid tweeted. “As a precaution we are rolling out additional targeted testing in the affected areas — Nottingham and Chelmsford — and sequencing all positive cases.”
He added that Britain is also placing Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola to its travel “red list,” effective 4 a.m. Sunday. The U.K. on Friday named South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Namibia and Zimbabwe to its red list.
Those who have returned from these countries in the last 10 days must isolate themselves and get PCR tests, according to the health secretary. He also urged those eligible for booster shots to go get the extra doses.
“This is a fast-moving situation and we are taking decisive steps to protect public health,” Mr. Javid said.
Many countries including Canada, Brazil, Australia, the European Union, Iran, Japan, Thailand and the U.S. have placed restrictions on various African countries over the past couple of days to try and contain the variant’s spread, the Associated Press reported.
The omicron variant also has been detected in Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel with a suspected positive case in Germany. Dutch health authorities said on Saturday they found 61 COVID-19 cases among people who flew from South Africa on Friday and will perform further tests to see if the travelers are infected with the omicron variant, Reuters reported.
The Biden administration announced on Friday that it is restricting travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi in response to concerns about the omicron strain. The travel ban will take effect Monday.
No cases of this variant have been identified in the U.S. so far, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.
“CDC is continuously monitoring variants and the U.S. variant surveillance system has reliably detected new variants in this country. We expect Omicron to be identified quickly, if it emerges in the U.S.,” the federal health agency said in a statement.
The World Health Organization on Friday formally designated the omicron variant, first detected in South Africa, as one “of concern.” The strain, also known as the B.1.1.529 variant, was first discovered in a sample collected Nov. 9.
“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other [variants of concern],” the WHO said Friday. “The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.”
Clarification: This has been updated from an earlier version to more accurately reflect the U.K.’s self-quarantine policy for those returning home from the affected countries.