Italy reports first case of Omicron covid variant

Patient had returned to Italy from Mozambique.

Italy on Saturday confirmed its first case of the Omicron covid-19 variant, a heavily mutated strain of the virus recently detected in southern Africa, in an Italian man who returned from Mozambique.

The patient, who had been double-vaccinated against covid, landed in Milan and is a resident of Caserta in the southern Campania region around Naples.

The five members of his family, as well as their contacts, have been placed in preventative isolation, reports Italian news agency ANSA.

The 55-year-old man, a manager employed by Italian multinational oil and gas company ENI, tested positive for covid after arrival in Milan.

In-depth studies were carried out on the man's case following the alarm over the new variant, also called B.1.1.529, and Italy's new travel restrictions on arrivals from southern Africa.

Scientists at the Sacco hospital in Milan subsequently sequenced the Omicron variant which the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared as "of concern". The patient reportedly has mild symptoms.

Italy's top infectious diseases hospital, the Spallanzani in Rome, announced a task force to study the new variant on Friday, hours after the Italian health minister signed an order banning anyone who has been in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini in the last 14 days.

Germany and the UK also confirmed cases of Omicron on Saturday, the day after the first case in Europe was detected in a Belgian woman who developed symptoms 11 days after returning from Egypt.

As nations around the world introduce flight bans and travel restrictions on southern African countries, Italy's health ministry has urged Italian regions to increase tracing of passengers from areas at risk.

The governor of the Lazio region around Rome, Nicola Zingaretti, has called for "immediate border control measures and to evaluate further choices to contain the flows of arrivals into Italy".

Photo credit: MARCO SOLBIATI / Shutterstock.com.