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A suspected case of the Omicron coronavirus variant has been identified on a cruise ship that docked in the US.
The case was found in a crew member on board the Norwegian Breakaway liner that disembarked in New Orleans on Sunday.
The Louisiana Department of Health said there were a total of 17 cases on board, with one suspected of being infected with the Omicron variant. It insisted the person did not leave the ship.
The ship returned to New Orleans after setting off from there on 28 November, before stops in Belize, Honduras and Mexico.
A spokesman for the ship’s owners, Norwegian Cruise Line, said: “At this time, there have been no changes to scheduled future sailings on Norwegian Breakaway.”
In a series of tweets on Monday, the Louisiana Department of Health said: “Seven additional COVID-19 cases have been identified on a Norwegian Cruise ship that disembarked in New Orleans today.
“This brings the total number of COVID-19 cases identified among the passengers and crew members to 17.
“This includes one probable case of Omicron which has been identified among the crew. This case is among the 10 cases that had been previously reported.
“The crew member is not a Louisiana resident and did not leave the ship.”
Norwegian Cruise Line said none of the people who tested positive for COVID-19 experienced any symptoms.
It said it all passengers and crew were required to be vaccinated against coronavirus before departure.
Watch: What are the latest UK travel rules following emergence of Omicron variant?
“We are testing all individuals on Norwegian Breakaway prior to disembarkation,” the company said.
“Any guests who have tested positive for COVID-19 will travel by personal vehicle to their personal residence or self-isolate in accommodations provided by the company.”
Some passengers complained upon disembarking that they had not been notified there were COVID-19 cases on board.
Louisiana confirmed its first Omicron case on Sunday, but the health department said it was not related to the Norwegian Breakaway.
A number of cruise ships were caught up in the coronavirus pandemic when it started last year.
There was an outbreak on the British-registered Diamond Princess, which had to quarantine in February 2020 in Yokohama, Japan, for about a month.
About 700 people on board were infected with COVID-19 and nine people died.
More than 40 cruise ships reported positive coronavirus cases on board in the first four months of the pandemic.
In the UK, there have been more than 250 reported cases so far of the Omicron variant, but one expert said the real figure was likely to be four times that, with more than 1,000 cases.
Professor Paul Hunter, from the school of medicine at the University of East Anglia, told BBC Breakfast on Monday there is concern that Omicron “is spreading rather more quickly than the Delta variant”.
On Monday, prime minister Boris Johnson said the UK is the first country to take “decisive measures” against the spread of Omicron.
He denied a scientist’s allegation that introducing travel restrictions to slow Omicron’s spread was like “shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted”.
From Tuesday, all travellers arriving in England will be required to take a COVID-19 pre-departure test in an attempt to limit the spread of the Omicron variant.
Nigeria was added to the red list at 4am on Monday, and arrivals from the African country must now spend 11 nights in a quarantine hotel. There are 11 destinations on the list.
Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) which advises the government, said the Omicron variant is already “spreading pretty rapidly” and the new travel measures “may be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted”.
But Johnson said: “What we’re doing is responding to the pandemic.
“We were the first country in the world to take decisive measures to tackle Omicron. We put about 10 countries automatically, immediately, on to the red list and we said that anybody coming from any country in the world would have to quarantine for a couple of days.
“We’re now going further and toughening those measures up as we see the spread of Omicron around the world.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it is unclear whether Omicron is more transmissible compared with other variants, and that it will take several weeks to have a clearer picture.
Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, one of the inventors of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, has warned that future pandemics could be more deadly.
Delivering the 44th prestigious Richard Dimbleby Lecture, which will be broadcast on BBC One on Monday evening, she said: “This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods.
“The truth is, the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both.”
Speaking about the Omicron variant, Dame Sarah said: “The spike protein of this variant contains mutations already known to increase transmissibility of the virus.
“But there are additional changes that may mean antibodies induced by the vaccines, or by infection with other variants, may be less effective at preventing infection with Omicron.
“Until we know more, we should be cautious, and take steps to slow down the spread of this new variant.”
Watch: Boris Johnson says UK first country to act decisively on Omicron