Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates say they have detected their first cases of the new coronavirus variant, recording the first known Omicron infections in the Gulf region.
Saudi Arabia’s state-run Saudi Press Agency said on Wednesday its case was a citizen coming from what it described as a “North African country”. Saudi Arabia’s health ministry said the infection was the Gulf’s first confirmed case.
The report said the infected individual and his close contacts had been quarantined.
The UAE also reported its first case of infection with the Omicron variant late on Wednesday. State-run WAM news agency described the patient as an African woman who travelled from an African country through an Arab country, without specifying which nations.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, which has been identified in more than 20 countries, including whether it is more contagious, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart the vaccine.
Information on transmissibility
Elsewhere in the Middle East, Lebanon declared a night-time curfew for the unvaccinated before and during the holiday season. Its health minister on Wednesday called it one of the measures to stem a recent rise in coronavirus infections and a precaution against the new variant.
Lebanon has not recorded any infections with Omicron, but the small country enduring a severe financial crisis is concerned its healthcare system may not be able to handle a new peak of infections.
Lebanon’s Health Minister Firass Abiad said the COVID committee wants to avoid imposing a full lockdown and hopes to encourage more people to get vaccinated.
Meanwhile, Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, said more would be known about the Omicron strain in two to four weeks as scientists grow and test lab samples of the virus.
The World Health Organization expects to have more information on the transmissibility of the Omicron strain within days, its technical lead on COVID-19, Maria van Kerkhove, said in a briefing.
She said one possible scenario was the new variant, which was first reported in Southern Africa, maybe more transmissible than the dominant Delta. She said it was not yet known if Omicron makes people more ill.