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Two cases of new Covid variant Omicron detected in Australia as Israel close its borders

The two passengers were tested after flying into Sydney from southern Africa yesterday

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Seoirse Mulgrew

Two cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant have been detected in Australia.

The two passengers were tested after flying into Sydney from southern Africa yesterday. The New South Wales health authority said it had conducted urgent genomic testing and confirmed the B.1.1.529 strain was present in the two passengers.

Both passengers came to Sydney from southern Africa on the evening of Saturday, November 27. They underwent testing on arrival and tested positive for Covid-19 late last night, NSW Health said in a statement.

“The two positive cases, who were asymptomatic, are in isolation in the Special Health Accommodation. Both people are fully vaccinated,” the statement said.

The remaining 12 passengers who were also on the flight from southern Africa are undertaking 14 days of hotel quarantine in the Special Health Accommodation.

Around 260 passengers and air crew on the flight are considered close contacts and have been directed to self-isolate.

New Zealand announced it is restricting travel from nine southern African countries because of the threat posed by the variant.

New Zealand’s Covid-19 Response Minister, Chris Hipkins said only New Zealand citizens will be allowed entry, and they will be required to spend two weeks in quarantine hotel run by the military.

Mr Hipkins said officials are confident the variant has not entered New Zealand and they are well placed to keep it out.

The World Health Organization has listed Omicron as a variant of concern because of its high number of mutations and some early evidence that it carries a higher degree of infection than other variants.

Israel has decided to ban travellers from entering the country for 14 days making it the first country to close its borders completely in response to the new variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the ban is awaiting government approval.

One case of the Omicron variant has been identified in Israel so far.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded to the arrival of Omicron in England by bringing back restrictions including the wearing of masks in shops and on public transport, 10-day isolation for contacts of variant cases and mandatory PCR tests for international arrivals.

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