Germany, Italy join list of countries with detected cases of omicron COVID-19 variant

Both Italy and Germany reported on Saturday that they had detected cases of the omicron COVID-19 variant, adding to a handful of countries that have found it within their borders.

Two cases of omicron were found in the southeastern German state of Bavaria, the country’s health ministry confirmed, according to Reuters. The health ministry said that the two people infected with the variant, who the government appeared to imply had traveled from South Africa, were isolating after they came into the country on Nov. 24.

Meanwhile, Italy’s National Health Institute announced that an individual traveling from Mozambique to Milan was also found to have the new variant, according to Reuters.

During an emergency meeting on Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) called the new strain a “variant of concern” and assigned it a Greek name. It was previously known as the B.1.1.529 variant. 

The variant was first detected by South African officials who said it was “very different” from prior variants. It remains unclear how contagious the omicron variant is.

As of Saturday afternoon, cases of the new variant had also been detected in the United Kingdom, Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel.

The White House on Friday announced that starting Monday, it would be restricting travel from eight African nations, including South Africa, in response to the emergence of the new variant.

“This morning I was briefed by my chief medical advisor, Dr. Tony Fauci, and the members of our COVID response team, about the Omicron variant, which is spreading through Southern Africa. As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries. As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises,” President Biden said in a statement upon the announcement.

However, scientists and others have warned against “knee-jerk” reactions to countries reporting new emerging variants. Some are concerned that nations such as South Africa are being punished for being transparent about what they are detecting.

During a live streamed WHO Q&A session, Mike Ryan, the executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said prior to the emergency meeting that it was important that “we remain focused on understanding and characterizing the problem and not punishing countries for doing outstanding scientific work and actually being open and transparent about what they’re seeing and what they’re finding.”

Tags COVID-19 COVID-19 variant Germany Italy Joe Biden omicron South Africa WHO

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