With large parts of Europe, including Austria, Germany and potentially France, already vying to ramp up restrictions in response to a recent increase in non-Omicron Covid cases, eyes will now be on leaders to see how they choose to respond to the emerging variant. But numerous health officials have played down fears of the variant and two of the world’s largest Covid vaccine producers have said they will be able to “very quickly” update their jabs “if they need to”.
The latest European countries to report Omicron Covid variant infections are the Netherlands and Denmark.
Dutch health authorities announced that 13 cases of the variant were reported among passengers who arrived in Amsterdam on Friday on two flights from South Africa.
This was out of a total of 600 passengers, 61 of whom tested positive for Covid.
Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said: “It is not unlikely more cases will appear in the Netherlands.
“This could possibly be the tip of the iceberg.”
Denmark also announced two cases of the variant on Sunday.
Both people who were found to have been infected by the variant had travelling from South Africa.
In response, Director of the State Serum Institute Henrik Ullum, quoted in Reuters, said: “This was to be expected, and our strategy is therefore to continue intensive monitoring of the infection in the country.”
Beyond Europe, health officials in Australia have reported two cases of the variant in people who had arrived in the country from southern Africa.
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These measures have been dubbed as a step towards the Government’s winter ‘Plan B’.
If imposed, this would also see the introduction of vaccine passport checks at nightclubs and other ‘large venues’, as well as the reintroduction of work from home guidelines.
England’s Chief Medical Officer has urged ministers to be cautious when it comes to “more muscular restrictions”.
Other scientific advisors who are close to the Government insist that fears of the Omicron variant have been overblown.
Professor Calum Semple from the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies told BBC Breakfast on Saturday: “This is not a disaster, and the headlines from some of my colleagues saying ‘this is horrendous’ I think are hugely overstating the situation.”
But Health Secretary Sajid Javid has not ruled out the introduction of tighter restrictions.
Following the announcement of two Omicron cases in Britain, he said: “If we need to take further action, we will.”