Following the ban on entry to Italy for travellers from southern African countries, Italy’s health authorities issued instructions to all regions to monitor travellers coming from countries where the Omicron variant is spreading.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) labelled Omicron a ‘variant of concern’. As a result, Italy’s Ministry of Health asked all regions to trace people who have already arrived in Italy from this area.
This follows a ban on entry to those who have been in southern Africa in the past fortnight. Italy’s director of prevention Giovanni Rezza authorised the plans in a circular “as a precautionary measure”.
“It is feared that the high number of mutations in the spike protein may lead to a significant change in the antigenic properties of the virus,” writes Gianni Rezza.
“But so far no virological characterisation has been carried out and there is no evidence of changes in transmissibility, severity of infection, or potential evasion of the immune response,” he added.
Omicron variant poses high risk to Europe
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), said the new variant poses a “high to very high” risk.
An EU threat assessment report notes “considerable uncertainty related to the transmissibility, vaccine effectiveness, risk for reinfections and other properties of the Omicron variant.”
Authorities recommend applying the same quarantine and isolation measures for omicron variant outbreaks as is currently the case for other variants prevalent in Italy, namely the Delta and Beta strains.
The issue of how current vaccines would protect against the new variant, led EU health officials to state, “We assess the probability of further introduction and community spread in the EU/EEA as high.
“In a situation where the Delta variant is resurgent in the EU/EEA, the impact of the introduction and possible further spread of Omicron could be very high.”
Omicron detected in Israel and Belgium
Israel detected the new variant in a person coming from Malawi. Other instances are in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong.
As for the EU, Belgium identified a case of the new variant in a young woman who developed symptoms 11 days after travelling to Egypt via Turkey, noted the Italian health authorities.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza said scientists were studying the new B.1.1.529 variant, “and in the meantime, we will follow the path of maximum caution”.
Italy’s ban on arrivals applies to South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland.
Netherlands isolate 61 arrivals from South Africa
Sixty-one people who arrived in Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa tested positive for Covid-19, Dutch officials say. They are in isolation at a hotel near Schiphol airport.
Some 600 passengers held for several hours after arrival while tested for the virus. The Dutch authorities are carrying out further testing to see if there are any cases of the Omicron variant.