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UK confirms first two cases of Omicron COVID-19 variant

Countries impose bans on travellers from southern Africa as world scurries to contain new coronavirus variant.

The UK has confirmed its first two cases of the new Omicron strain of COVID-19, both linked to travel from southern Africa.

The variant has prompted several countries to impose restrictions such as travel bans on several southern African countries, while others have imposed fresh lockdowns over the new strain.

The new restrictions come after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new COVID-19 variant to be “of concern”.

The Omicron variant, which scientists say has a high number of mutations, was first detected in South Africa last week and has spread rapidly through the province of Gauteng, home to the economic hub Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.

It has so far been detected in at least four other countries.

Also known as B.1.1.529, the mutations could help the virus evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, according to scientists.

It could take weeks to know if current vaccines are less effective against it.