Omicron: Italy sets up task force to study new covid variant

Italy bans arrivals from southern African countries amid concerns about Omicron variant.

Italy's premier infectious diseases hospital, the Spallanzani in Rome, has established a task force to study data relating to the new Omicron covid-19 variant, a heavily mutated strain also called B.1.1.529, first detected in southern Africa.

The Rome hospital said it is in contact with experts from South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) to "monitor the trend of the spread of the variant and the containment measures to adopt."

Describing the task force as "the Spallanzani's immediate response to the concern that arises among citizens with regard to this variant", the hospital's director Francesco Vaia said: "The message we are putting out is: be careful, let's observe first, let's study and then we assess what action to take to combat this new variant".

In a statement the hospital said: "With regard to the concern that is spreading in the country over the new variant, we wish to reiterate, once again, how fundamental it is first to observe and study the phenomenon and then establish the necessary measures to be taken, avoiding emotional reactions not supported by scientific grounds."

Travel restrictions

The Spallanzani announced its task force after the Italian health minister Roberto Speranza issued an order banning entry into Italy to anyone who has been in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini in the last 14 days.

The EU and the UK have also brought in a flight ban for arrivals from southern Africa, with similar measures to be introduced in the US and Canada.

First case in Europe

On Friday Belgium detected Europe's first confirmed case of the new variant in an unvaccinated Belgian woman who developed symptoms 11 days after returning from Egypt.

Italian deputy health minister Pierpaolo Sileri said on Friday that so far authorities in Italy had not detected the new variant.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Omicron as being "of concern," stating that preliminary evidence suggests that it carries a higher risk of reinfection than other variants.

WHO added that it will take a few weeks for scientists to understand the impact of the new variant and how transmissible it is.

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Omicron: Italy sets up task force to study new covid variant

Via Portuense, 292, 00149 Roma RM, Italy