Two cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant have been discovered in the UK, the country's health secretary said Saturday.
The cases are connected to travel from "southern Africa," where the variant was first identified.
The World Health Organization labeled the Omicron variant a "variant of concern" on Friday.
Two cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant have been found in the UK, the nation's secretary of state for health and social care announced via Twitter on Saturday.
"The two cases are linked and there is a connection with travel to southern Africa," UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid said in a tweet. "These individuals are self-isolating with their households while further testing and contact tracing is underway."
Javid said the UK government planned to roll out "additional targeted testing" in Nottingham and Chelmsford, where the cases were discovered, and planned to perform genetic sequencing on all positive COVID-19 cases there.
"This is a fast-moving situation and we are taking decisive steps to protect public health," he said.
He added that officials added Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Angola to its "travel red list," meaning anyone traveling to the UK from those places must self-isolate and get PCR tests upon arrival. Numerous countries have introduced or modified travel restrictions following the discovery of the variant.
—Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) November 27, 2021
As Insider previously reported, the Omicron variant — officially known as the B.1.1.529 variant — was first discovered by genetic sequencing in South Africa. It contains signs of being more transmissible or dangerous than other strains of the disease, according to public health experts.
The World Health Organization labeled the variant one of "concern" on Friday, though officials have stressed that little about the variant is known.
"We don't know very much about this variant yet," said Maria van Kerkhove, the WHO's technical lead on COVID-19, at a briefing Thursday. "What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations, and the concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves."
The variant was first identified in South Africa on November 9. It has since been found in several other countries, including Israel, Botswana, Hong Kong, Belgium, and now the UK.
Dr. Anthony Facui, the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor, said Saturday that the variant hadn't yet been detected in the US but told NBC News "it almost invariably is going to go all over."
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