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COVID: Germany confirms first 2 cases of omicron variant

Germany's first two cases of the coronavirus variant omicron have been confirmed in Munich. The development comes with the world on alert over the variant first discovered in southern Africa.

A medical syringe and two vials are seen in front of the text Omicron COVID-19

The variant was first discovered in South Africa in a sample from Botswana

Two cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus have been detected in the southern state of Bavaria, the state Health Ministry said on Saturday.

Bavarian Health Minister Klaus Holetschek said the two infected individuals entered Germany at Munich airport on November 24.

The pair are now isolating, the ministry said.

Vaccine fears

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control has said the strain could reduce the effectiveness of available vaccines, as well as increase the risk of reinfection.

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Earlier on Saturday, the state minister for social affairs and integration for the German region of Hesse, Kai Klose, said the variant had "very likely already arrived" in Germany.

The discovery of the omicron variant has sparked global concern, with a wave of travel bans imposed on southern African countries where an outbreak of the new variant was first detected.

Israel to shut borders to foreigners

On Saturday, Israel announced it would ban the entry of all foreigners coming into the country as part of containment measures since the discovery of the omicron variant.

The Israeli government would also be reintroducing phone-tracking technology to help locate those infected with the variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the ban would last 14 days, pending the approval of government.

Watch video 02:53

What other countries can learn from Israel

Fauci 'would not be surprised' if omicron in US

A top US infectious disease specialist has said he "would not be surprised" if omicron is already circulating within the United States.

"When you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility and you're already having travel-related cases that they've noted in Israel and Belgium and other places, it is ultimately going to go essentially all over," Dr. Anthony Fauci told NBC.

US Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters on Saturday that the administration will take it "one step at a time," when asked about additional travel restrictions. "For now we've done what we think is necessary," she said.

On Saturday, the United States joined the list of countries to react to the variant outbreak.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US State Department has advised against traveling to eight southern African countries.

The CDC raised its travel recommendation to "Level Four: Very High" for South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Eswatini and Botswana while the State Department issued parallel "Do Not Travel" advisories.

Czech Republic confirms first omicron case

A hospital in the northern Czech city of Liberec has also confirmed a case of the omicron variant, after the first European case was found in Belgium on Friday. 

A spokesperson for the city's hospital told local television that the variant was detected in a female patient.

"My colleagues from the department of genetics and molecular diagnostics confirmed the strain with 90% probability after a sequence analysis," said Vaclav Ricar, a hospital spokesman.

According to Prime Minister Andrej Babis, the woman had been in Namibia and had flown to the Czech Republic via South Africa and Dubai news, agency AFP reported.

The country joins a growing list of others that have begun detecting cases of the newly identified variant.

Watch video 02:27

World on alert over omicron variant

UK, Italy also detect omicron

The UK has also discovered two cases of the variant among citizens who were connected to travel to southern Africa, while Italy has detected one omicron infection from a positive sample of a patient coming from Mozambique.

Fears are growing that omicron could stall a global recovery from the pandemic which has already lasted almost two years.

jsi/aw (dpa, Reuters)

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