Cases of Omicron Covid have been detected across the world, less than a week after concerns were first raised about the ‘dangerous’ new variant.
The fast-spreading mutant strain has so far been found on every continent bar South America – and there are expected to be many more cases in the coming days.
Governments have responded by introducing a raft of new travel restrictions, including flights bans to and from southern Africa, where the variant was discovered.
Experts say the strain is likely to spread rapidly despite the new measures amid fears that it is highly transmissible and can evade vaccines because of its ‘unprecedented’ number of spike mutations.
The World Health Organisation has warned the variant poses a ‘very high’ global risk that could have ‘severe consequences’ in some areas.
With the world on high alert, here Metro.co.uk looks at how Omicron has spread so far and what’s being done to stop it.
Three cases of Omicron have so far been confirmed in Australia.
A South African man in his 30s who flew from Johannesburg to the northern Australian city of Darwin last Thursday was the latest person to test positive for the new variant.
It’s after New South Wales state authorities reported on Sunday that two travellers from South Africa to Sydney had become Australia’s first Omicron cases.
The planned December 1 reopening of the country’s international borders to skilled workers and students has been postponed as a result.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has already banned non-Australian citizens from entering the country if they have been to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi, and Mozambique within the past 14 days.
On Sunday, Canada confirmed its first two cases of the Omicron variant among two people who had recently visited Nigeria.
The government of Ontario confirmed that they are now isolating in the capital Ottawa after testing positive.
Canada had already banned travel from seven African countries over concerns about the spread of the strain but Nigeria was not one of them.
Officials are working to track anyone who may have come into contact with the infected people.
French authorities are waiting for laboratory confirmation that eight people who have tested positive for Covid have the new strain.
The suspected cases all involve people who travelled recently to southern Africa.
The Health Ministry said Sunday night that results could take several days.
France has introduced new rules that state all contacts of a suspected case of Omicron will have to isolate, even if vaccinated.
Until now, contacts of an infected person had to isolate only when they were not fully vaccinated or when they had weak immune systems.
France has also suspended all flights from southern Africa until at least December 1 and stepped up protocols for people coming from its nearby overseas territories of La Reunion and Mayotte.
Dutch authorities have identified at least 13 cases of Omicron among 61 quarantined passengers who tested positive for coronavirus after arriving on a flight from South Africa.
The country was already experiencing a fourth wave of cases and has introduced new rules including early closing times for hospitality and cultural venues, and limits on home gatherings.
People are also being encouraged to work from home where possible, but nurseries, schools and universities across the country remain open.
The Netherlands has introduced travel bans from various countries in southern Africa and is working to trace passengers who have arrived in the week before the restrictions were imposed.
Portugal detected 13 cases of the Omicron variant on Monday, all involving players and staff members of Lisbon-based football club Belenenses SAD.
One squad member, defender Cafu Phete, tested positive for Covid after returning last week from international duty in South Africa.
It appears he then infected several other team members, forcing the club to abandon its Primeira Liga match against Benfica on Saturday.
A total of 44 players and staff are now in isolation as further tests are carried out.
The club said two or three players and two or three staff have symptoms, while the rest are asymptomatic.
Rest of Europe
Further cases of Omicron have now been confirmed in Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Denmark and Italy.
Almost all the cases were among people who had recently travelled to parts of southern Africa where the variant was first identified.
In Italy, the National Health Institute said its case had been detected in Milan in a person coming from Mozambique.
Czech health authorities said they were examining a suspected case of the variant in a person who spent time in Namibia.
The German state of Bavaria has announced two people who entered Germany at Munich airport on November 24 are now isolating after they were suspected of having the variant.
Covid was already raging in many European countries anyway and most were in the process of reintroducing restrictions.
Belgium has gone into a three week ‘lockdown light’ which involves an 11pm curfew, the closing of nightclubs and table bookings restricted to six people.
Austria has made vaccinations mandatory and the government there has imposed a fourth national lockdown.
Denmark has introduced new rules on face masks and the use of Covid ‘health passes’ after it confirmed two cases of the variant.
The European Commission has called on all member states to introduce flight bans to and from southern Africa.
Hong Kong has so far reported two confirmed cases and one suspected case which were all imported from Africa.
The cases come after no infections were reported locally for several weeks.
Hong Kong has responded by banning the entry of non-residents who have visited one of eight southern African countries in the past 21 days.
Residents arriving from these countries must quarantine for seven days, regardless of vaccination status.
The country where Omicron was first detected could see daily infections treble this week, a top epidemiologist has warned.
More than 2,800 infections were reported on Sunday, up from a daily average of 500 in the previous week and 275 the week before – although not all of them have been confirmed as the new strain.
‘We can expect that higher transmissibility is likely and so we are going to get more cases quickly,’ Dr Salim Abdool Karim said at press briefing.
‘I am expecting we will top over 10,000 cases by the end of the week per day (and) pressure on hospitals within the next two, three weeks.’
But the country’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has urged countries to lift travel bans, claiming they have no effect.
He has also said authorities would not be considering economic lockdown restrictions for the time being.
Israel has introduced some of the strictest measures to contain the spread of the variant in an attempt to protect its highly vaccinated population.
The country’s health ministry detected its first case on Sunday in a person who had arrived from Malawi.
Other suspected cases are currently being traced, authorities have said.
Borders have been closed entirely to foreign tourists as a result, with only Israeli citizens now able to enter the country.
They have to present a negative PCR test and quarantine themselves for three days if they have been vaccinated and seven days if they have not.
A controversial programme that allows the country’s internal security agency to track mobile phones has also been reintroduced.
Tracking will be used in order to ensure verified cases stay in quarantine to cut the chains of infection.
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