BERLIN (Reuters) – Two cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant have been detected in the southern German state of Bavaria and a suspected case found in the west of the country, health officials said on Saturday.
The two people with the variant entered Germany at Munich airport on Nov. 24, before South Africa was designated a virus-variant area, and were now isolating, said Bavaria’s health ministry, without saying explicitly that they had come from South Africa.
The two had come forward for further investigations after they heard about the new variant, which has caused global concern and prompted a wave of travel curbs.
The Bavarian ministry said anyone who had been in South Africa in the last 14 days should immediately reduce contacts, take a PCR test and contact their local health authority.
“Bavaria has responded early and quickly to the very new variant,” a ministry spokesperson said. “Everything must be done to stop it spreading.”
Of passengers arriving from Cape Town on Friday, 50 are in quarantine in Bavaria. Two foreign passengers tested positive for coronavirus and being investigated for the Omicron variant, the Bavarian ministry said.
Earlier, officials in the western state of Hesse, home to Frankfurt airport which is one of Europe’s busiest airports, said a suspected case of the Omicron variant had been found in a passenger arriving from South Africa.
The person arrived in Germany on Sunday and was fully vaccinated, Der Spiegel reported, citing the social affairs ministry in Hesse. No one was immediately available at the ministry to comment.
The city of Frankfurt’s health authority said it expected the results of a full sequencing on Monday. A routine check in the last week after a positive coronavirus test had thrown up the case which showed indications of the new variant, it said.
The authority has since introduced coronavirus tests for all travellers from South Africa and Namibia on arrival at Frankfurt airport. None have so far been positive.
Germany is classifing South Africa as a virus-variant area from Sunday. This stops short of a ban on flights but means airlines can fly only Germans to Germany from South Africa and even those who are vaccinated must spend 14 days in quarantine.
GERMANY’S SURGING CORONAVIRUS
The new variant has emerged as Germany, like many other European countries, is grappling with a surge in coronavirus cases.
Health Minister Jens Spahn warned the situation was worse than ever. “We must reduce all contact, we are in a situation that is more serious than we have had before,” he said at a townhall with a group of experts on Saturday.
Many Germans expect tighter restrictions as intensive care units, especially in eastern and southern Germany, reach their limits.
Immunologist Leif Erik Sander of the Charite hospital in Berlin said current vaccines would probably offer at least some protection against the Omicron variant.
“I’m optimistic we won’t have to start from scratch,” he told the townhall, adding more research was needed.
However, only 68.3% of the population of about 83 million is fully vaccinated, far behind the rates in southern European countries such as Portugal and Spain. Some 10% of the population has received a booster shot, said Spahn.
Germany recorded 67,125 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases said. More than 100,000 people have died with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Mark Potter and Frances Kerry)