Bangladesh on Saturday reported the first two cases of Omicron variant of coronavirus, raising alarm because of its sheer number of mutations, more than what prior variants had.

"These two infected female patients (cricketers) returned from Zimbabwe recently," ASM Alamgir, chief scientific officer of the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), told UNB.

He said the Omicron patients are members of the Bangladesh Women's Cricket Team and they do not have any severe symptoms.

However, the two female members of the cricket team have been kept in a hotel for isolation, he added.

The two cricketers tested positive for Covid-19 on December 6.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Zahid Maleque on Saturday said samples of other members of the women's team are being tested to confirm whether there are more cases of Omicron Covid-19 variant.

The minister said, "We're alert about the new strain of Covid-19. All the overseas returnees will be kept in quarantine," he said at the inauguration programme of vitamin A campaign at Dhaka Shishu (Children) Hospital.

On December 9, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the omicron coronavirus variant is now present in 57 countries and asked all countries to stay alert about the new variant.

A WHO panel named the Coronavirus variant 'Omicron' and classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the predominant delta variant, which is still a scourge driving higher cases of sickness and death in Europe and parts of the USA.

Quoting WHO, Minister Maleque, however, said the Covid-19 vaccines Bangladesh is administering are capable of preventing Omicron and urged all to get vaccinated.

New Travel Rules

On December 3, Bangladesh announced new travel rules, making a 14-day institutional quarantine mandatory for all travellers from seven African countries.

The countries are Botswana, Eswatini, Ghana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh said on Thursday in its updated travel restriction notification. The order will come into effect Saturday.

According to the new travel rules in Bangladesh, all passengers from these seven African countries will need to stay at government-designated hotels at their own expense.

On the seventh and 14th day of quarantine, they will have to undergo RT-PCR tests at their own expense, it said.

If any passenger tests positive for Covid on the seventh day, they will be separated for further isolation, while Covid-negative travellers will continue their quarantine till the 14th day.

Depending on the RT-PCR test results on the 14th day of their quarantine, Covid-negative passengers will be released.

The passengers returning from these seven countries will need to show proof of hotel bookings in Bangladesh during check-in, said Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB).

With changes to a previous guideline, incoming passengers from all other destinations, except children below 12 years, will need to mandatorily possess a Covid-negative certificate, with the test conducted within 48 hours of their flight departure, it said.

The UK and other countries have imposed a travel ban on South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and other countries as the new variant is more contagious than the Delta variant.

Amid the growing concern over the new 'Omicron' variant of coronavirus, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) suggested the implementation of 15 instructions to prevent the spread of the new variant and urged all concerned to take measures to enforce the instructions.

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