Omicron outbreak at Norway Christmas party is ‘biggest outside South Africa’

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Watch: Norway Christmas party 'causes biggest Omicron outbreak outside South Africa'

An outbreak of the Omicron COVID variant at a Christmas party in Norway was the biggest outside of South Africa, with more than 60 people possibly infected, officials have said.

At least 13 people who attended the "super spreader event" in Oslo on 26 November have already been found to have the new strain, authorities said on Friday.

The outbreak took place at a Christmas party organised by renewable energy company Scatec, which has operations in South Africa where the variant was first detected.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has said there may be a chance current vaccines will be less effective against the strain.

Picture taken on December 2, 2021 shows the entrance to the Louise Restaurant & Bar at Aker Brygge in Oslo, Norway. - At least 17 people who came down with Covid-19 after a Christmas party gathering over 100 guests in the restaurant on November 26, 2021 are suspected of having the Omicron variant, city officials said on December 3, 2021. The number is likely to grow as sequencing is carried out on other positive tests from party-goers. - Norway OUT (Photo by Ole Berg-Rusten / NTB / AFP) / Norway OUT (Photo by OLE BERG-RUSTEN/NTB/AFP via Getty Images)
The restaurant and bar in Oslo where the Christmas party took place. (Getty Images)

Preben Aavitsland, a senior physician at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, said: "This party has been a super spreader event.

"Our working hypothesis is that at least half of the 120 participants were infected with the Omicron variant during the party.

“This makes this, for now, the largest Omicron outbreak outside South Africa."

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Aside from the people infected at the party, two people living on the country's west coast and two people in quarantine at Oslo airport have been confirmed to carry the Omicron variant.

The first person in Oslo confirmed as infected had attended the party, where at least one employee had just returned from South Africa.

All the attendees were fully vaccinated and had tested negative before the event.

"Health authorities have confirmed a further 12 cases of Omicron in Oslo after an outbreak," the city of Oslo said in a statement.

"So far 13 Omicron cases have been confirmed after sequencing. More cases are expected."

Health authorities said the individuals infected were so far displaying mild symptoms, with none hospitalised.

Aavitsland added: "It is still too early to say whether the clinical picture of the disease is different in Omicron infections than in Delta infections.

"None of the patients has severe symptoms; none is hospitalised. However, this is not unexpected given the young age of the participants."

Scatec said it had been following authorities' advice throughout the pandemic.

The outbreak led the Norwegian government to reintroduce some nationwide restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Anyone arriving in the country, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, must take a COVID test within 24 hours.

In areas with high infection rates, such as Oslo, the use of face masks in crowded places is mandatory, as is working from home for those who can.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2021/11/15: Christmas lights in Oxford Street. (Photo by Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson has insisted people should not cancel Christmas celebrations. (Getty Images)

Across Europe, companies are cancelling Christmas party plans due to the emergence of the Omicron variant.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly insisted people should not cancel their holiday celebrations, though senior health official this week said people should not socialise unless necessary.

Deutsche Bank has told its London staff they can hold small gatherings at the individual team level, requiring a negative lateral flow test.

On Friday, the UK Health Security Agency (HSA) said a further 75 cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed in England amid signs of a “small amount” of community infection.

Watch: PM tells people not to cancel Christmas parties amid Omicron rise

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