A newly mutated variant of the coronavirus, described by scientists as the ‘worst ever’, has been confirmed in Belgium. This is the first case to be reported within the European Union since the variant was identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Israel early this week.
Omicron, Variant of Concern
According to Belgian local media, a sample was confirmed as the variant in a traveller who returned from Egypt on November 11. The patient reportedly first showed symptoms on November 22. Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said:
We have one case of this variant that is confirmed. It’s someone who came from abroad.
The World Health Organization has named the new variant, omicron, describing it as a variant of concern, the same designation given to the delta variant that is dominating infections across the world.
Typically, experts monitor variants of concern (VOCs) closely because they could spread more easily and may cause more severe illness. This is also done to determine if existing vaccines may be less effective against them.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove is the WHO's COVID-19 technical lead, and she said:
It's really important that we have good SARS-Cov-2 surveillance around the world, including better genomic sequencing because we want to be able to detect this variant where it is circulating.
Travel Restrictions & Precautions
The government has added South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia to the UK’s travel red list.
This means, from Sunday 4am, passengers entering the UK from these countries will be required to book and pay for a government-approved hotel quarantine for 10 days.
Also, those who arrived in the UK recently from any of the red-listed countries have been urged to get tested.
The UK’s health secretary, Sajid Javid has described the new variant as a ‘huge international concern’ and that:
...we must move quickly and at the earliest possible moment. We are keeping this under review and there’s very live discussions going on about whether we should and when we might add further countries, and we won’t hesitate to act if we need to do so.