A first suspected case of the new Omicron variant has been detected in Germany in a person recently returned from South Africa.
Kai Klose, social affairs minister for the western lander of Hesse wrote on Twitter on Saturday that “the Omicron variant is, in all likelihood, already present in Germany.”
“Several mutations typical of Omicron were found last night in a traveller returning from South Africa. There is therefore a high level of suspicion and the person has been isolated. The complete sequencing is still pending at the current time,” he added
If confirmed, this would make it the second case of Omicron detected in the European Union after Belgian authorities announced on Friday that a traveller returning from Egypt had tested positive for the variant.
Dutch authorities are meanwhile sequencing samples from 61 passengers from two planes returning from South Africa on Friday and who tested positive for COVID-19.
EU member states on Friday closed their borders to travellers from seven Southern African countries — Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe — because of the variant.
The decision came hours before the World Health Organisation (WHO) gave the variant, first known as B.1.1.529, its name and labelled it a “variant of concern”.
The United Nations’ health agency stressed that “preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of infection” with experts also worried that the variant’s “large number of mutations” make it more immune to current treatment, including vaccines.
Other countries to have imposed travel restrictions with southern African countries include Canada, the UK and the US.