Coronavirus: UK health secretary says 2 cases of omicron identified, linked

LONDON — Two cases of the mutated new coronavirus variant discovered in southern Africa have been confirmed in the United Kingdom, the country’s health secretary confirmed Saturday.

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Sajid Javid said one case of the omicron variant was discovered in Chelmsford and the other was found in Nottingham, ITV reported. Javid said both cases were linked, and there was a connection to the travelers from southern Africa.

“Late last night, I was contacted by the UK health security agency,” Javid said in a statement. “I was informed that they have detected two cases of this new variant omicron in the United Kingdom.”

Update 12:28 p.m. EST Nov. 27: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a news conference that anyone arriving in the United Kingdom must take a PCR test for COVID-19. Travelers would have to self-isolate until they provide a negative test.

Johnson also said that rules on face coverings will be tightened up in shops and public transportation, the BBC reported. Johnson said the policy will be reviewed in three weeks.

Original report: Javid said the two confirmed cases are self-isolating in their households while contact tracing and targeted testing occur, according to The Associated Press.

“This is a real reminder that this pandemic is far from over,” he said. “If we need to take further action, we will.”

The new variant has also been identified in South Africa, Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel, according to the BBC.

Ten countries are now on the United Kingdom’s travel red list. That means that beginning Sunday at 4 a.m. local time, all arrivals into the country will have to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days.

On Friday, the UK placed South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini on the red list. Javid added Angola, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia on Saturday, according to the BBC.

>> Dutch authorities find 61 COVID-19 cases among South Africa travelers

“We’ve always been very clear that we won’t hesitate to take further action if that is what is required,” Javid said.

The cases in the UK come after Dutch authorities said 61 people from two flights that entered the Netherlands from South Africa had tested positive for COVID-19.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the U.S., said that it is possible that the variant is already in the United States but has yet to be detected.

“I would not be surprised if it is, we have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility and you’re having travel-related cases they’ve noted in other places already,” Fauci told NBC’s “Today” show. “When you have a virus like this, it almost invariably is going to go all over.”

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