Suspected Omicron coronavirus case found in Germany

Suspected Omicron case found in Germany, regional minister says
Suspected Omicron case found in Germany, regional minister says Copyright Thomson Reuters 2021
Copyright Thomson Reuters 2021
By Reuters
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BERLIN -The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has probably arrived in Germany, a minister in the western state of Hesse said on Saturday, after mutations were found in a passenger arriving from South Africa.

"Last night several Omicron-typical mutations were found in a traveller returning from South Africa," tweeted Kai Klose, social affairs minister in Hesse, home to Frankfurt airport, Germany's biggest hub and one of Europe's busiest airports.

He added a full sequencing of the variant was being carried out and the person was isolating. Anyone who has travelled from South Africa in the last few weeks should limit contacts and get tested, he said.

The new variant has emerged as Germany and many other European countries grapple 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.

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.

Most Germans are braced for tighter restrictions as intensive care units, especially in eastern and southern Germany, reach their limits and COVID-19 patients are transferred from hospitals that are overwhelmed.

The Leopoldina, a respected official scientific advisory body, recommended a drastic reduction in contact, at least in hard-hit regions, and compulsory vaccinations.

Only 68.3% of Germany's population of about 83 million is fully vaccinated, far behind the rates in southern European countries such as Portugal, Spain and even France. Some 10% of the population has received a booster shot, said Spahn.

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.

Germany has said it will classify 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.

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