Tue, 25 Jan 2022

STOCKHOLM, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) -- Sweden's Public Health Agency on Monday confirmed the country's first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The case was found when a traveler who last week returned to Sweden from South Africa was tested.

"It was expected that the variant would be found in Sweden, as it has been found in several other European countries as well," Karin Tegmark Wisell, the agency's director general, said in a press release.

"Based on the information we have about the variant, we should take it very seriously until we have more knowledge. The measures for travelers from southern Africa have been tightened since Friday and developments are now being closely monitored per recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)," Tegmark Wisell said.

Besides Sweden, eight countries in the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA) had also reported confirmed cases by Monday, the ECDC said. These were Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal.

"All confirmed cases have a history of travel to African countries, with some having taken connecting flights at other destinations between Africa and Europe. All cases for which there is available information on severity were either asymptomatic or mild. No severe cases and no deaths have been reported among these cases so far," the EU's health watchdog said in a press release.

Omicron, also known as B.1.1.529, was caused by a mutation first discovered in South Africa. It is labeled a "variant of concern" by the WHO, which on Sunday said it was not clear whether it was more transmissible than the Delta variant despite the number of positive tests reported in South Africa.

Even though preliminary data also suggest an increase in hospitalizations in South Africa, the WHO said it was not clear whether Omicron causes more severe disease, as this may be due to the increasing overall numbers of infections.

Meanwhile, several countries have introduced restrictions on travelers coming from southern Africa. Sweden is one of them, but Swedish citizens are exempt.

The Public Health Agency, however, recommends that people returning from the area test themselves, followed by a second test five days later. They should also stay at home for seven days after their return, the authority said in the press release.

The government is also prepared to reintroduce restrictions should the situation worsen, Lena Hallengren, minister for health and social affairs, said in a tweet.

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