Austria reports first suspected case of Omicron COVID-19 variant

FILE PHOTO: Coronavirus safety signs at the entrance to a lift station in the Tyrolean ski resort of Ischgl

By Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi

ZURICH (Reuters) - Austria has detected its first suspected case of the new Omicron coronavirus variant in the Tirol, authorities in the alpine region said late on Saturday.

A traveller who returned from South Africa last week tested positive for COVID-19 with indications of the new variant, though confirmation requires further sequencing over the coming days, Tirol authorities said in a statement.

South Africa's discovery of the variant has sparked global concern, a wave of travel bans or curbs and a sell-off on financial markets on investor fears that it could stall recovery from the pandemic. Cases were detected in several European countries on Saturday, including Italy and Germany.

Austria had already powered down public life last Monday with its fourth national coronavirus lockdown, becoming the first western European country to reimpose the unpopular measure this autumn owing to surging COVID-19 infections.

Initial testing by the Institute of Virology in Innsbruck had led to "concrete suspicion" the positive PCR test result from the individual in Tirol's Schwaz district could relate to an Omicron case, authorities said.

The sample would now be sent to the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) for further testing.

"A result from AGES is expected in the coming days," Elmar Rizzoli, Head of Tirol's Corona Operations Staff, said in a statement. "The affected person has, according to his own statements and current knowledge, stayed almost exclusively at home since his return from travel three days ago and currently shows no symptoms."

Authorities appealed for further testing by individuals who had entered Austria within the past 14 days from countries in southern Africa as a precautionary measure.

(This story corrects headline to show it is a single case, not cases.)

(Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by David Goodman)