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Omicron variant found in Iceland

02.12.2021 - 09:57
epa08308213 Nurses prepare a test kit before collecting a specimen from a patient at a coroanvirus drive through testing location in Seattle, Washington, USA, 19 March 2020. UW Medicine is offering COVID-19 tests to patients with appointments after an initial screening.  EPA-EFE/STEPHEN BRASHEAR
 Mynd: EPA-EFE - EPA
The first Omicron coronavirus variant infection has been diagnosed in Iceland, Már Kristjánsson, head physician for the infectious diseases department at Landspítali national university hospital, confirmed last night. A tell-tale sign in PCR testing earlier in the day had raised suspicions and sequencing later confirmed the presence of the Omicron variant.

There is only one confirmed case at this stage, but contact tracing is underway. As the patient had not recently returned from overseas, it appears the Omicron variant is spreading somewhere in the community within Iceland.

“We are not sure how the outbreak looks. The affected individual has not recently returned from overseas themself, so they have been infected by somebody else,” says Hildur Helgadóttir, pandemic committee project manager at Landspítali. “We don’t know any more at this time.” 

He was infected by somebody else inside Iceland? “Yes.” 

So, Omicrom is spreading freely somewhere? “Yes. And that’s what we’re seeing all around the world, or at least very widespread: it is being diagnosed widely and seems to have got further than people maybe thought.” Hildur says the presence of Omicron does little to change the contact tracing process, which is always as detailed as possible anyway. 

According to Már, the affected patient, an adult man, is receiving hospital treatment and his symptoms are typical for COVID-19. He is not extremely ill. 

Travel caution, but no more restrictions

Chief epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason says there is no proven need to further toughen travel rules over the new variant, but that travellers must more than ever read up on the situation and the current rules in the countries they are travelling to. Rules can change quickly and can cause delays at borders. 

December, and specifically the Christmas period, is one of the year’s biggest travel peaks, with lots of Icelanders living overseas returning for visits home, and lots of foreign nationals in Iceland leaving the country for the same reason. 

“I think there is every reason for people to think about where they are going and how the situation is in those countries they are travelling to. Calls have been made at meetings of the health and security agency of the European Union from most countries to tighten their borders for travel and people could land in difficulties over border restrictions. There are various plans in various countries, meaning there is not a unified approach across Europe, so I think people need to think carefully and familiarise themselves with which restrictions are in place,” Þórólfur advises—adding that rules can change quickly. 

He says the current advice, which has been in place for many months, is to limit overseas travel where possible. That advice from the health authorities remains in place, but Þórólfur does not plan any further restrictions at this stage. Not enough is yet known about the new variant and the danger it poses. 

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