Germany, Italy confirm cases of Omicron coronavirus variant

The United Kingdom, Germany and Italy have confirmed their first two cases of the new Omicron strain of coronavirus.

The variant has prompted several countries to impose restrictions such as travel bans on several southern African countries, against the advice of the World Health Organization, while others have imposed fresh lockdowns to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The Omicron variant, which scientists say has a high number of mutations, was first detected in South Africa last week. Cases have also been reported in travellers in Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong.

The mutations in Omicron, also known as B.1.1.529, could help the virus evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, according to scientists. It could take weeks to know if current vaccines are less effective against it.

Saudi Arabia has said it will allow entry to travellers “from all countries” as long as they have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine inside the kingdom.

The ministry said the travellers would be allowed in from next Saturday and would need to quarantine for three days.

Saudi Arabia suspended flights on Friday to and from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini.

Some of 61 COVID-19 cases detected among a group of passengers that arrived in the Netherlands from South Africa this week are likely to be the Omicron variant, health authorities have said.

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