The Omicron variant of Covid-19 has probably arrived in Germany, a minister in the western state of Hesse said on Saturday after mutations were found in a passenger arriving from South Africa.
“Last night several Omicron-typical mutations were found in a traveller returning from South Africa,” tweeted Kai Klose, social affairs minister in Hesse, home to Frankfurt airport, Germany’s biggest hub and one of Europe’s busiest airports.
He added that a full sequencing of the variant was being carried out and that the person was isolating, and he urged anyone who had travelled from South Africa in the last few weeks to limit contacts and get tested.
Joe Biden on Friday confirmed the United States will bar entry to most travellers from eight southern African countries starting on Monday, as it and other countries react to the emergence of the potentially more contagious variant.
Omicron has been designated a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and has reached Belgium after being discovered in South Africa.
The WHO warned that preliminary evidence suggests the variant has an increased risk of reinfection and may spread more rapidly than other strains.
The US travel restrictions do not ban flights or apply to US citizens and lawful US permanent residents.
No cases of the Omicron variant were identified in the United States to date, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday. The agency expects that it would quickly identify the variant, also known as B.1.1.529, if it emerges in the country.
The US followed the EU and other countries around the world in announcing travel curbs affecting arrivals from eight countries in southern Africa. The restrictions apply to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
Thailand also announced a ban on travel from the countries, beginning in December, following other Asian countries including Japan in tightening border rules.
In the UK, flights were banned from six countries – South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe – which were added to its travel red list. Passengers arriving in the UK from these countries from 4am on Sunday will be required to book and pay for a Government-approved hotel quarantine for 10 days.
In the case of the United States, most non-US citizens who have been in the eight affected countries within the prior 14 days will not be allowed enter. Many bans announced around the world kick in immediately, unlike those issued by Mr Biden.
The United States only lifted the travel curbs on 33 countries including South Africa, China, much of Europe, India, Brazil, Ireland, Britain and Iran on November 8th, after blocking the entry of most foreign nationals who had recently been in those countries since beginning in early 2020.
Mr Biden made the announcement while spending the Thanksgiving holiday weekend on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket. “As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries,” he said in a statement.
A White House official told Reuters the decision to implement the rules from Monday was due to procedures that had to be done before such a ban could be put in place, including working with transportation authorities and airlines.
Meanwhile, Dutch health authorities said 61 people who arrived in Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa on Friday tested positive for Covid-19, and tests for the Omicron variant among the people infected were being conducted.
About 600 passengers arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on the two KLM flights on Friday and then faced hours of delays and testing due to concerns over the new virus variant.
The Dutch government banned all air travel from southern Africa