Omicron: 7 disembarked in Singapore from South African SIA flight including 1 close contact

·Editorial team
·3 min read
Singapore Airlines planes sit on the tarmac at Changi Airport in Singapore November 16, 2021. REUTERS/Caroline Chia
Singapore Airlines planes sit on the tarmac at Changi Airport in Singapore on 16 November, 2021. (PHOTO: Reuters)

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Health (MOH) on Monday (29 November) said that seven passengers had disembarked from a Singapore Airlines flight travelling from South Africa's Johannesburg to Singapore, which carried two cases who tested positive for the Omicron variant.

All passengers who departed from the South African city on 27 November via the Singapore Airlines SQ481 flight had arrived at Changi Airport on the same day for their transit flight to Sydney, the ministry noted.

Six of those who disembarked in Singapore are serving a 10-day stay-home notice at a dedicated facility and will be PCR tested, added the MOH.

The seventh traveller, who was a close contact of an Omicron case on the flight, has been quarantined.

Contact tracing is ongoing for airport staff who may have come into transient contact with the two cases.

All passengers had tested negative for COVID-19 on their pre-departure tests in South Africa on 26 November, said the ministry, which did not mention how many of them were on board.

"Most of the travellers had remained in the transit area at Changi Airport until their departure for Sydney on 28 November, and did not enter Singapore or visit other areas in Changi Airport," it added.

The MOH's statement comes hours after the New South Wales government confirmed that two passengers on the eight-hour transit flight to Sydney, an Singapore Airlines SQ211 flight that arrived on 28 November, had tested positive for the Omicron variant.

Both were fully vaccinated and have been isolated while all passengers on the flight "will need to get tested immediately for COVID-19 and isolate for 14 days, regardless of their vaccination status", said the New South Wales authorities in a press release on Monday.

In response to media queries from Yahoo News Singapore, a Singapore Airlines spokesperson said it is unable to reveal any information about its passengers due to customer confidentiality.

It also noted that the pilots and crew who operated on the specific SQ211 flight will self-isolate and be tested for COVID-19, in accordance with the guidance from the authorities.

"Singapore Airlines will work with the authorities, and be guided by the relevant regulatory requirements, as it ensures the health and safety of our customers and staff members," the airline said.

The new Omicron variant, or B.1.1.529, was last week identified by researchers in South Africa and thought to be potentially more contagious than other previous strains.

Following its discovery, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday classified it as a "variant of concern", the most serious category that the agency uses for such tracking.

Scientists found that the new variant has a "very unusual constellation" of mutations and the most seen to date – some of which are already known but many others are new.

According to a leading virologist, the Omicron variant has around 50 mutations overall, including 30 on the spike protein, which enables the virus to enter cells.

This raised concerns that it might be able to evade antibodies produced by either a previous infection or a vaccine. It is, however, not yet clear whether it causes more severe disease.

A South African doctor who was one of the first to suspect a different strain among patients said that symptoms of the Omicron variant were so far mild and could be treated at home.

The variant has now been detected in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, France, Canada, and South Africa.

In response, countries, including Singapore, have scrambled to bar travellers from the southern African region, with Japan and Israel imposing a blanket ban on all foreign arrivals.

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