The regional health minister warned on Saturday that a new highly mutated variant of the coronavirus, known as Omicron, is “very likely” already present in Germany.
At least one person who recently returned from South Africa has tested positive for Covid-19, and although full sequencing of the variant that infected him has not yet been completed, some of the mutations already identified were typical of Omicron, Kai Klose, Minister of Health of the Western state of Hesse, according to Twitter. The variant was first discovered in southern Africa.
Hesse is home to Frankfurt, a financial hub with a busy airport, where two Lufthansa flights from South Africa arrived on Friday.
“There are very strong suspicions, the person was isolated at home,” said Mr. Klose. tweeted… “The #Omicron variant is very likely already in Germany.”
The news has sparked renewed concern at a time when Germany is already struggling to curb a brutal fourth wave of the pandemic, which has caused tens of thousands of new daily infections – more than ever in the country during the pandemic. Hospitals across the country are struggling to cope with the surge in Covid patients.
Germany is currently one of several European countries with suspected or confirmed cases of the new variant. Belgium reported a case on Friday in a traveler returning from outside southern Africa, and health officials in the Czech Republic said on Saturday that they are investigating a suspected case in a person who has spent time in Namibia, Reuters news agency reported.
Full sequencing of the suspected Omicron case in Hesse will not be completed until early next week, said Sandra Ziesek, director of the Institute for Medical Virology at the University Hospital of Frankfurt.
On Friday, the German government restricted entry from South Africa. From midnight on Saturday, it will be designated as a high-risk “variant region”, which means that airlines are only allowed to transport German residents to Germany. All arrivals must be quarantined for 14 days, even if they are vaccinated.