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Saudi Arabia confirms first case of Omicron variant

Saudi Arabia confirmed its first case of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant as countries tightened restrictions on international travel in an attempt to slow its spread.

Saudi’s state-run SPA quoted a source from the health ministry as saying the infected individual – a Saudi national who has been isolated – had travelled back from a North African country.

The announcement came as Ugur Sahin, the CEO of COVID-19 vaccine-maker BioNTech, said that while the Omicron variant could lead to more vaccinated people becoming infected, they would likely remain protected against severe illness.

Meanwhile, a panel of US health advisers narrowly backed a closely watched COVID-19 pill from Merck which could lead to authorisation later this week.

Scientists have been scrambling to learn more about the effects of the Omicron variant, first detected in South Africa last week.

It remains unclear where or when the variant first emerged. But nations have rushed to impose travel restrictions, especially on visitors coming from Southern Africa, despite the World Health Organization’s call for “rational” measures in response to the new strain.

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