(EFE).- Australia on Sunday confirmed its first cases of the new Covid-19 Omicron variant, concern over which is leading dozens of countries around the world to ban or restrict entry to travelers from southern Africa.

The variant, which was first detected in Botswana on Nov. 11, was identified by South Africa on Tuesday and classified as “of concern” by the World Health Organization because of its high number of mutations.

It is not yet known how existing vaccines would work against Omicron, nor whether it is more transmissible, but the WHO said it “may have a growth advantage.”

Genomic testing confirmed the variant’s arrival in Australia in two passengers who entered Sydney from southern Africa via Doha on Saturday, New South Wales Health said in a statement Sunday. It did not disclose the travelers’ original departure country.

The two were asymptomatic and fully vaccinated, and are now in isolation, the statement said. Another 12 passengers from southern Africa on the plane are in quarantine for 14 days, and 260 passengers and crew on the flight have been told to self-isolate.

All travelers who have been in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini, Malawi and the Seychelles in the 14 days prior to their arrival in NSW must undergo 14 days of quarantine. This is in line with measures also announced by the federal government.

Meanwhile, Israel became the first country to seal its borders to all foreigners to contain the spread of Omicron, after detecting its first case.

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The inter-ministerial coronavirus cabinet held an urgent meeting Saturday night and decided on a two-week ban, as well as to reimpose mandatory quarantine on all Israelis returning to the country from midnight Nov. 29-30.

The health ministry confirmed on Friday its first Omicron case in an Israeli citizen arriving from Malawi, and the country has several other suspected cases.

On Saturday, Israel designated 50 African countries to its “red list” before the appearance of the new variant, prohibiting travel to and from those places.

Cases of Omicron have been confirmed in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany and Denmark, with several other countries including Italy and the Czech Republic detecting suspected cases of the variant.

Dutch health authorities on Sunday confirmed at least 13 cases among the 61 passengers who tested positive on Friday after landing at Amsterdam airport on two flights from South Africa.

Amid spiraling infection numbers, the Netherlands has imposed a nocturnal lockdown, with all non-essential businesses ordered to shut at 5pm, while supermarkets, pharmacies and petrol stations can operate until 8pm.

In the United Kingdom, prime minister Boris Johnson announced Saturday that re-imposed a mask mandate on public transport and in shops. The British government had lifted all Covid-related restrictions in the summer.

The US, Canada, Brazil, Spain, Austria, France, Italy, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, the Maldives, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand are some of the dozens of countries that have temporarily suspended travel or announced that they will impose restrictions on travelers from southern Africa or countries that have confirmed the presence of the variant. EFE

© 2021 EFE News Services (U.S.) Inc.


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