The Hong Kong government said on Thursday that it had detected two cases of the new COVID-19 Variant, Omicron, identified in South Africa earlier this week.
The infections were detected in a man who had returned to Hong Kong from South Africa this month, and later in another man staying across the hall in the same quarantine hotel. (Hong Kong requires almost all overseas arrivals to quarantine in hotels for two to three weeks.).
The virus’s genetic sequence was identical in both men, suggesting airborne transmission, according to the city’s Center for Health Protection. Both men were vaccinated.
Further sequencing by the University of Hong Kong confirmed that the viruses belonged to the new variant from South Africa, officials said, though they acknowledged that information about the variant’s public health impact was “lacking at the moment.”
Several countries are responding by closing their borders to travelers arriving from eight African countries where Omicron has already been detected.
The United States, France, Germany, UK and Italy, have officially announced travel restrictions from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi and Mozambique.
Omicron carries an unusually large number of mutations and is “clearly very different” from previous incarnations, Tulio de Oliveira, a bio-informatics professor who runs gene-sequencing institutions at two South African universities, said at a briefing on Thursday.