NEW YORK: The United States has identified the country’s first confirmed case of the Omicron Covid-19 variant in the state of California, health authorities said Wednesday.

The California and San Francisco Departments of Public Health have confirmed that a recent case of Covid-19 in a person in California was caused by the Omicron variant. The individual was a traveller who returned from South Africa on Nov 22, Xinhua quoted the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as saying in a news release.

Officials said that genomic sequencing was conducted at the University of California, San Francisco and the sequence was confirmed at CDC as being consistent with the Omicron variant, which was first detected in southern Africa last month.

The individual, who was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms that are improving, is in self-quarantine and has since tested positive. All close contacts have been contacted and have tested negative, according to the CDC.

The health agency said the emergence of the variant “emphasises the importance of vaccination, boosters, and general prevention strategies needed to protect against Covid-19. Everyone 5 years and older should get vaccinated. Boosters are recommended for everyone 18 years and older.”

South Africa reported the variant to the World Health Organisation last week, and the agency labelled Omicron a “variant of concern”. The Joe Biden administration responded by announcing international travel restrictions for eight southern African countries.

US President Joe Biden said Monday that the variant is “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic”. The Biden administration is reportedly planning stricter testing requirements for all travellers entering the country.

Top officials are considering requiring everyone who enters the country to be tested for Covid-19 the day before their flight and having all travellers tested again after returning home, regardless of vaccination status, CNN reported. — Bernama