Omicron or B.1.1.529 Coronavirus the new variant o
(Getty)
  • Elad Maor, a cardiologist from Tel Aviv, tested positive for the Omicron variant on 27 November, shortly after South Africa revealed its existence to the world.
  • He was never in South Africa. But he was in London for a conference, which he left on 23 November.
  • Maor told The Guardian he is sure he was infected at that conference.
  • That suggests the variant was in London well before the UK closed its borders, and from there could have spread far and wide across the world.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

On 27 November, Elad Maor tested positive for the much-feared Omicron variant of the coronavirus. That makes the Israeli cardiologist one of the earlier known cases of infection; at the time the variant did not yet have a name, and South Africa had only disclosed its existence to the world two days earlier.

Maor, who is based in Tel Aviv, did not pick up that infection in southern Africa, and he does not believe he was infected in Israel either.

"I got the Omicron in London, for sure," he told The Guardian in an exclusive interview published on Thursday.

Specifically, he believes he was infected at a medical conference which he left on 23 November, three days before various countries imposed travel restrictions on South Africa and its neighbours, in an effort to delay the arrival of Omicron.

Israel shut its borders to foreigners on the same day Maor tested positive. The United Kingdom is currently accepting only returning citizens and residents, who are required to quarantine for 10 days in R50,000 hotel rooms.

The PCR London Valves 2021 conference for heart specialists was attended by 1,250 people who were required to show proof of vaccination, Guardian health editor Andrew Gregory reported, but at least some people were not wearing masks in at least some indoor settings.

The conference explicitly encouraged mingling. "In-person participation must and will continue," participants were told. "What better way to share our knowledge and skills than face-to-face, whilst also enjoying the chance to catch up with friends and network with peers?"

The conference organisers have since issued a Covid-19 alert to participants.

Conference alert

The United Kingdom has now reported a dozen cases of Omicron infection.

Many of those are in Scotland, which has yet to find a link between those cases and travel to southern Africa.

See also | Scotland has a new Omicron case, suggesting community transmission not linked to SA

Maor, who is triple-vaccinated, is currently believed to have infected only one colleague in Israel. That is despite attending another conference in Israel, being in the audience of a piano recital, and performing medical procedures on patients, and eating in a crowded hospital canteen, between his return home and his first symptoms, the New York Times reported.

Israeli authorities are cautiously optimistic that may indicate the country's high rate of vaccination will hold back the spread of Omicron. 

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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