10 Russian Citizens Returning from South Africa Positive for COVID, 2 with Omicron Variant

On Monday, Russian health officials reported their first cases of the Omicron variant after ten citizens traveling from South Africa tested positive for COVID, and the Associated Press reported at least two of them were for the new variant.

The AP reported that two of the samples tested positive for the new Omicron variant and the remaining samples are being analyzed to see if they come back positive for the new variant, according to Rospotrebnadzor, the Russian public health watchdog.

Rospotrebnadzor said that the people traveling who tested positive for COVID have been admitted to the hospital. It is unknown whether it's for precautionary measures or if the patients were reportedly feeling ill.

Russia has been requiring any travelers entering the country from South Africa to quarantine in facilities to be observed following their arrival, Rospotrebnadzor said.

In light of the new Omicron variant, as of Thursday, Russia required all Russian citizens returning from South Africa and surrounding countries to quarantine for two weeks, the AP reported. Russia also won't allow foreign travelers to enter the country if they're traveling from South Africa or the surrounding countries.

Russia reported its largest surge of COVID infections in recent months, which has only slowed down in the past couple of weeks, the AP reported. Cases of infections and deaths had reportedly reached an all-time high causing concern for the country.

October 2021 was the deadliest month for Russia during the entire pandemic. Russia's state statistics agency reported that 74,893 people died from the virus that month, according to the AP.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Russia, Police, Quarantine, COVID-19
On Monday, Russian health officials reported their first cases of the Omicron variant after ten citizens traveling from South Africa tested positive for COVID, and at least two of them reported having the new variant. Above, a Russian traffic police officer checks documents of a driver to ensure a self-isolation regime due to coronavirus, with the Christ the Savior Cathedral in the background, in Moscow, Russia, on April 13, 2020. Pavel Golovkin/AP Photo

Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart coronavirus vaccines. The Omicron variant was first reported by scientists in South Africa.

Last week, the developer of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine said that it will begin working on adapting its COVID-19 vaccine to counter the Omicron variant.

The Gamaleya Center and the Russian Direct Investment Fund that bankrolled Sputnik V and its one-shot version Sputnik Light said in a joint statement that the existing vaccine should be efficient against the new variant, but offered no study data to back the claim.

Despite Russia being the first country in the world to register its vaccine against COVID-19, vaccination rates remain poor. Last week, more Russian regions imposed mandatory vaccination for people aged 60 and over, in an effort to boost vaccine uptake and keep contagion and fatalities down.

Russia on Monday reported 32,136 new cases and 1,184 deaths. The state coronavirus task force has reported a total of more than 9.8 million confirmed infections and 282,462 deaths in the pandemic. But a report released Friday by the state statistics agency Rosstat, which uses broader criteria, put the overall number of virus-linked deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 to over 537,000—almost twice the official toll.

China, Los Angeles Airport, Hazmat Suit, Omicron
Flight crew from Air China arrive in hazmat suits in the international terminal at Los Angeles International Airport on December 3, 2021, as Los Angeles County reported its first case of the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron. Frederic J. Brown/ AFP/Getty Images