HPA: First case of Omicron variant detected in South African tourist

Tourists at Velana International Airport on August 11, 2021. (Sun Photo/Fayaz Moosa)

Health Protection Agency (HPA) has identified the first case of the Omicron variant confirmed in Maldives as a tourist who travelled to the country from South Africa. 

HPA confirmed the first case of new COVID-19 variant in Maldives in a tweet on Sunday. The agency said the variant was detected in a tourist, but did not provide much detail. 

In a statement on Monday afternoon, HPA said the variant was detected in a tourist who arrived in Maldives from South Africa on November 21. The sample taken from the tourist was in a batch of samples sent overseas for genomic sequencing on November 30. 

HPA said that samples are regularly sent overseas with the assistance of World Health Organization (WHO) for genomic sequencing. 

The agency also noted that the Delta variant remains the most predominant. 

Omicron, first reported from South Africa on November 24, has been classified by World Health Organization (WHO) as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the predominant Delta variant.    

The variant has been detected in 46 countries so far. 

With the discovery of the new variant in Maldives, HPA has urged the public to adhere to protective measures including wearing a mask and social distancing. People who show symptoms have been urged to get tested at flu clinics. 

Maldives imposed new travel restrictions following the emergence of Omicron last week. Entrance of tourists from seven southern African countries - South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Eswatini – has been banned, while locals and work-permit holders arriving from the countries are required to quarantine.

No additional travel restrictions have been imposed yet, though cases have also been reported in several European countries that are top source markets for tourist arrivals to Maldives, since then.