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Norway detects its first two omicron coronavirus cases

Norway has identified its first two cases of the new omicron coronavirus variant, the west coast municipality of Oeygarden and the health ministry said.

The two people who were infected had been on a trip to South Africa. Both of them were currently recovering from the infection, Oeygarden mayor Tom Georg Indrevik said in a statement on Wednesday.

The municipality of close to 40,000 people had recently seen a rise in infections of other variants of Covid-19, and would now further tighten its local restrictions to control the outbreak, it said.

Norway on Friday imposed a quarantine on any travellers arriving from South Africa or neighbouring countries, following a similar decision by neighbouring Denmark and many other countries around the world.

On Tuesday, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere announced new measures to contain the coronavirus, including asking Norwegians to wear face masks in most crowded places and speeding up booster dose vaccinations.

Daily infections have averaged 2,642 people in the last seven days in Norway, the highest on record, up from 2,145 in the preceding seven-day period, government figures show.

While 88 per cent of adults in Norway have received at least two vaccine doses against Covid-19, and 71 per cent of the overall population has been inoculated, hospitalisations and mortality are rising.

Norway in September ended all domestic coronavirus restrictions, but opposition parties in recent days have called on the government to act to prevent the spread of the virus and thus avoid a hard lockdown of society.

The omicron variant has caused concern globally as its mutations could potentially reduce the effect of vaccines, though it would take weeks to determine that.

At least 42 cases of the Covid-19 omicron variant have been confirmed in 10 European Union countries, the head of the EU’s public health agency said on Tuesday, a day before Norway’s announcement.