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Uganda confirms 1st cases of omicron coronavirus variant

Detection of new virus strain, growing list of new restrictions expected to affect travel plans ahead of Christmas

Hamza Kyeyune   | 07.12.2021
Uganda confirms 1st cases of omicron coronavirus variant

KAMPALA, Uganda

Uganda confirmed its first cases of the omicron coronavirus variant, according to the country's medical research institute on Tuesday.

Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) announced that all new omicron cases were detected in samples taken from travelers that arrived in the country through the Entebbe International Airport.

"Genomic surveillance has identified and confirmed cases of the omicron variant," said Dr. Pontiano Kaleebu, the head of UVRI.

“The travelers arrived from Nigeria, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo and Netherlands aboard Ethiopian Airways, Uganda Airlines, Kenya Airlines and Airlink on November 29th 2021” a statement by UVRI read.

Health Minister Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng said cases could already be in the community, calling for increased surveillance to keep track of the circulating variant. She said the ministry isolated the confirmed cases and is tracing their contacts.

The omicron variant, first detected in the Southern African country Botswana on Nov. 11, has already spread rapidly across the globe with borders shutting and dozens of countries rolling out travel restrictions.

The development will adversely affect the tourism sector ahead of Christmas as Ugandans living abroad as well as many tourists travel to Uganda for year-end holidays.

In January, Uganda is set to fully open the economy and resume in-person education.

The omicron is believed to be more contagious than the previous ones.

The emergence of the new strain and a growing list of new restrictions are also expected to affect travel plans. When the delta variant hit Uganda, the government imposed heavy restrictions that affected many sectors, including a plunge in the tourism sector's income.

“With travel bans updated hourly, we expect disruptions and cancellations, which has been happening each time there’s a coronavirus mutation,” Katongole Hadija, a businesswoman in Kampala, told Anadolu Agency.

In his national addresses recently, President Yoweri Museveni said that by the end of December, Uganda will have received 23 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines and that he will fully open the country in January next year regardless of people's vaccination status.

Many countries have put restrictions on flights from some nations, others have put flight restrictions in place for all foreign nationals, and some are delaying plans to reopen their borders to nationals of specific countries.

Uganda has so far registered 127,708 cases of COVID-19 and 3,258 deaths, according to government figures.

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