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'Highly likely' first Omicron case has been found in Gibraltar, Govt says

Photo by Eyleen Gomez

The Gibraltar Government has announced it is 'highly likely' the first case of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 has been detected in Gibraltar, but added this will take a further 24 to 48 hours to confirm.

The Contact Tracing Bureau will be advising all close contacts of this case that they will need to self isolate for 10 days regardless of vaccination status.

This will be a temporary measure which will be continuously reviewed, the Government said.

The work of the Contact Tracing Bureau in the case appears to suggest that the person was infected whilst at a social function in Spain earlier this month.

Director of Public Health, Dr Helen Carter, confirmed the probable Omicron case had very mild symptoms.

Public Health had increased surveillance over the past couple weeks after the Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa on November 24 and then in the UK and Spain a few days later.

The team have been able to detect this case rapidly due to their precautionary approach.

“We are ready and prepared, this has been fully anticipated,” Dr Carter told the Chronicle.

Over the past few weeks every case which had a travel history to a country where Omicron had been identified was fast-tracked through genome sequencing, Dr Carter said.

She said although genome sequencing is underway and could take up to 48 hours to complete, early signals from this case showed it was high likely it was the Omicron variant.

"It is very likely that we will be confirming our first case of the Omicron variant in Gibraltar in the next 24-48 hours as further Genome sequencing takes place on this suspected case," Dr Carter said.

"I have [on Thursday] advised the Chief Minister that we will be informing all close contacts of the suspected case that they should isolate immediately, regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not.”

“I must stress however, that this is a temporary measure which we are taking which will buy us time until I have further data to be able to advise the Government."

"I would like to take this opportunity to emphasise how important it is that people take their booster vaccines. There is now emerging evidence to suggest that three doses of the Pfizer vaccine can generate a neutralising effect against the new Omicron variant."

Dr Carter has assessed the global outlook on the new variant, adding that the Omicron variant will likely result in more cases, whether it is more severe is still not known and the booster vaccine has given promising results.

Dr Carter strongly urged those who have declined the booster vaccine to reconsider and call the GHA on 20066966 or by register online the following link:

She said the uptake so far has been positive with 70% of over 60s taking up the vaccine, and reminded those who have delayed having the vaccine that the potential consequences are more serious than the vaccine side effects.

“Don’t delay the vaccine,” Dr Carter said.

There will be walk-in clinics from 10am – Midday and 2pm – 7pm on Friday 10, Monday 13 and Tuesday 14, December at the Children's Centre for those needing their booster vaccine.

"It is with regret that the Government is making this announcement," Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said.

"I am advised that it is very likely that the suspected case will be confirmed as an Omicron variant shortly. The Government will always act on the advice received by its Director of Public Health to ensure that we try and minimise the spread as much as possible of this new variant."

"As I have already repeatedly said, there is no better option for us than a highly vaccinated community. Please, there is now a significant amount of evidence that the efficacy of those initial doses has started to wear off, which is very concerning as we enter the winter months. Everyone who is offered a booster dose, which is now being rolled out to all those aged 16 and over, is therefore strongly encouraged to take it."

"Please, follow the advice of Public Health professionals, especially if you are a close contact, and call 111 at the first onset of symptoms, no matter how mild they are. This will help you and help us in our fight against this persistent virus."

Active Covid-19 cases in Gibraltar rose slightly to 245 after 20 new cases were detected on Thursday and 14 recoveries were recorded.

There are currently 336 people in self-isolation and two positive cases in the Covid-19.

Of the 20 new resident case in Gibraltar on Thursday, 13 were close contacts of an existing active case.

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