Authorities in the UAE are monitoring developments related to the spread of a new variant of Covid-19 called Omicron, a top official has said.

In a special media briefing on Sunday, Dr Farida Al Hosani, spokesperson of the health sector in the UAE, said the variant was first detected on November 12.

“The variant was first reported in South Africa, after which cases were detected in several countries, including among travellers,” she said.

Citing World Health Organisation (WHO), the official said that recent genetic mutations may be more transmissible than previously reported variants. However, this is based on a preliminary report and would need further research, she added.

She assured residents that the competent authorities are following up on all on information related to new Covid strains and will announce precautionary measures accordingly.

The UAE had on Friday announced the suspension of entry of travellers from seven African countries – South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique. The travel suspension is effective from November 29.

According to news agency AP, a raft of curbs are being imposed by nations around the world as they scramble to slow the variant’s spread. Israel decided on Sunday to bar entry to foreign nationals in the toughest move so far.

“The Netherlands confirmed 13 cases of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus on Sunday and Australia found two as the countries half a world apart became the latest to detect it in travelers arriving from southern Africa,” the AP report said.

Confirmed or suspected cases of the new variant have already emerged in several European countries, in Israel and in Hong Kong, just days after it was identified by researchers in South Africa.

The Netherlands confirmed 13 cases of the variant, while Australia found two as the countries half a world apart became the latest to detect it in travelers arriving from southern Africa.

Earlier, Dr Farida had urged residents to avoid overseas travel as Covid cases surge in some countries.

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