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The emergence of Omicron, the most recent strain of Covid, has sparked concerns around the world of rising case numbers. Having only been officially reported for the first time on Wednesday the World Health Organisation (WHO) have said it will take several weeks to understand its impact. So, how concerned should we be about this new variant?
South Africa became the first country to officially report a case of the Omicron variant to the WHO on Wednesday.
Since then it has been identified in seven other countries around the world.
This afternoon the UK revealed it had identified its first two official cases of the new variant, which are both linked with travel to South Africa.
Botswana, Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong have all confirmed concrete infections whilst Germany and Czech Republic have reported suspected cases.
In recent days concerns from the global community have been expressed as to how severe symptoms of the Omicron variant are for those who become infected.
Early evidence of infection from the variant suggests that it contains many mutations and that there is a higher risk of reinfection.
In a statement, the UN public health body said: “This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning.”
However, WHO officials have said it will take several weeks before they can understand the impact of the variant and how transmissible it is.
Yesterday, the Chairwoman of the South African Medical Association, Dr Angelique Coetzee, reiterated the WHO’s message, adding that most of the cases they had seen so far were “very mild”.
Speaking to BBC News she said: “From us as medical practitioners, we picked up, last week, the different clinical pictures, we looked at the advisory committees and so far what we have seen is very mild cases.
“We know there are a lot of mutations but no one can tell us at this stage if it means something, or if it is just going to fade away. We just don’t know.”
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Nonetheless, many countries have already imposed travel bans and restrictions on people travelling from countries in southern Africa.
On Thursday, the UK announced that people travelling from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini would not be able to enter the country unless they are UK or Irish nationals, or UK residents.
As of 4.00am on Sunday, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola will be added to this list.
Several European countries, such as France, Italy and Germany, have imposed restrictions on travellers from South Africa and neighbouring countries that include a 14 day quarantine period for all regardless of their vaccination status.
Other nations to have introduced similar travel restrictions include the US, Australia, India and Brazil.
The following are listed on the NHS’s website as the main symptoms of Covid.
A high temperature. By this they mean you feel hot to touch on your chest or back.
New or continuous cough. This constitutes coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes within 24 hours.
Loss or change to your sense of smell or taste. Here, you’ve noticed you can’t smell or taste anything or that things smell or taste differently to normal.
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