Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Marking the first known instances of omicron infections in the Persian Gulf region, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday said that they have detected their first cases of the new coronavirus variant.
A passenger coming from a north African country was identified as the Kingdom's first case while Emirates News Agency said that a woman arriving in the UAE from an African country through an Arab state was the country's first case.
"One case of the Omicron variant has been detected in the kingdom -- it was a citizen coming from a North African country," a Saudi health ministry official told the state SPA news agency.
"He has been put in isolation, as have his contacts, and the necessary health measures have been taken," the Saudi health ministry said.
Hours later, the neighbouring United Arab Emirates announced that it had also detected its first Omicron case, in a woman coming from an African country via an Arab nation.
The patient was immediately isolated and everyone she had contact with has been traced.
Authorities said she has not shown any symptoms but her condition was being monitored.
The ministry said all measures were in place to protect public health.
The variant was first announced by South Africa but has since been discovered to have been present earlier in Europe.
It has prompted governments around the globe to reimpose travel restrictions, despite warnings from the World Health Organization this could do more harm than good.
Saudi Arabia last week halted flights from seven southern African countries, mirroring similar moves by other government, but travel links with North Africa have remained unaffected.
The kingdom had been lifting some of the remaining restrictions it imposed early in the pandemic, allowing worshippers at the Muslim holy places to resume praying shoulder-to-shoulder from October.
More than 47 million doses of Covid vaccine have been administered in the kingdom, which has a population of nearly 35 million.
Since the pandemic started, Saudi Arabia has recorded in excess of 549,000 cases of Covid-19, more than 8,800 of them fatal, while the UAE has registered about 742,100 cases and more than 2,100 deaths.