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Queensland researchers discover new strain of rogue Omicron virus - two infected

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Queensland researchers have identified a new strain of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in what authorities say is a world-first discovery. The new strain will be called Omicron Like.

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And Queensland now has two patients in hospital with Omicron – one has Omicron and the other has Omicron Like.

News of the latest discovery, by the State’s forensic scientific services, was announced by Health Minister Yvette D’Ath early Wednesday.

It comes amid fears a Sydney Harbour boat cruise could turn into a super spreader event after five party goers tested positive to COVID-19, with two likely to have the highly contagious Omicron variant.

NSW Health says genome sequencing is underway to confirm if any of the five confirmed cases have Omicron but preliminary results indicate two are likely to have it.

All cases are isolating at home.

In Queensland, both Omicron cases are in hospital but are said to be well. One is a returned traveller from Nigeria, who is currently in Cairns hospital, after arriving in Sydney and travelling to Cairns. He has tested positive to the original Omicron variant and authorities say he may be moved to Townsville hospital.

The second case, an arrival from South Africa, is in a Brisbane hospital, and genomic sequencing has revealed this to be a new strain of Omicron, in what acting chief health officer Dr Peter Aitken said was “amazing work”

Since the Brisbane discovery, international bodies had classified Omicron into two lineages. Dr Aitken said that the original Omicron had 30 different gene changes whilst Omicron Like has about half that number.

“This is amazing work. They have picked up the differences here, worked through it in a methodical and scientific approach,” Dr Aitken said.

He said the man, in Cairns hospital, was well but may be moved to manage bed capacity and for clinical reasons, as Cairns has fewer quarantine beds than some other hospitals.

D’Ath thanked the State’s researchers.

“I want to give a huge thank you to our forensic scientific services. It is their work that has lead to the international committee reclassifying Omicron into two lineages and we have both of them here in Queensland,” D’Ath said.

The State’s borders will open to interstate travellers from COVID-19 hotspots on December 13 and Queensland expects more community cases of COVID-19, with the numbers peaking in March through to June 2022.

On Wednesday, 87.53 per cent of the State had received one dose of the vaccine and 79.11 per cent were double dosed.

Almost 100 per cent of the eligible people, aged 70 years plus, have had one dose of the vaccine and 94 per cent of that cohort are double dosed whilst the figures for 50 years plus are similar.

But D’Ath said 20-39-year-olds were lagging well behind in the vaccination stakes and many of this group had not even had one vaccine dose yet.

In Sydney, authorities are now urgently trying to contact about 140 people who signed in with a QR code before boarding the Sydney Harbour boat on Friday, which left King Street Wharf 9 at 7.30pm and returned about 11pm.

Anyone who was on board, and everyone in their households, is being urged to immediately get tested and isolate.

The cruise was jointly marketed as ‘Flow Fridays – 90s Themed Boat Party’ and ‘Freaky Sunday Afrovibe: The Last Dance’.

Thirty-one cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant have been registered in NSW.

A growing cluster linked to a climbing gym in Sydney’s southwest and two schools has increased to 20, with more cases expected.

Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said the original source was believed to be a traveller who had been in Nigeria and arrived in Sydney from Doha on flight QR908 on November 23.

“It’s expected that the numbers linked to this cluster will rise as further results are confirmed over the coming days,” she said on Tuesday.

NSW Health is consulting widely in an effort to determine how contagious the new variant is and how it is transmitted compared with other variants.

“We are working with our international counterparts to rapidly gain a better understanding about the nature of this new variant,” Dr Chant said.

“We are also working to understand the severity of the new variant and importantly how effective vaccines are at offering protections against severe disease.”

The state recorded 260 new COVID-19 cases from 58,706 tests in the 24 hours to 8pm on Monday.

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