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At least two people in the United Kingdom have the omicron variant of the coronavirus, the country’s health secretary announced.
The cases are linked and involve travel to southern Africa, where the latest variant was first identified, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said Saturday. The individuals are isolating at home.
Cases have also cropped up in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel during a relatively short period of time.
In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention so far has not identified any cases of the fast-spreading omicron strain, which was first detected in South Africa on Nov. 24. The vaccination rate in South Africa is roughly 35%.
The omicron variant is the first new variant of concern since the delta variant that swept through the world earlier this summer, causing an uptick in infections and deaths, particularly among the unvaccinated population. The delta strain was twice as infectious as the original COVID-19 virus.
Scientists race to answer questions about new variant
While there are a number of studies underway to continue evaluating the omicron variant, the World Health Organization says the number of mutations in this variant is “concerning” and that it could suggest an “increased risk of reinfection.”
The WHO also says that current COVID-19 tests are capable of identifying this omicron variant, which is how authorities have been able to track how rapidly the variant is spreading. But further information and studies on the variant could take “days to weeks,” health officials from WHO said.
Exactly how fast the variant is spreading and whether the current vaccines available can prevent infection are still unclear. But Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told NPR: “Let me be clear, there is no data at the present time to indicate that the current vaccines would not work.”
In the meantime, people should continue to take steps to lower their exposure to infection and reduce the spread of the virus, the WHO urges. This includes mask-wearing and getting the vaccine when it’s your turn to do so.
Collins also recommends that people who are six months out from being fully vaccinated get their booster shot.
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