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Omicron: Palestinians detect first cases of new Covid variant

All infected individuals had recently returned from abroad, health ministry says
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A Palestinian health worker stands at the entrance of a Covid-19 vaccination centre in the West Bank city of Nablus on 22 March 2021 (AFP)

Three cases of the new Covid-19 Omicron variant have been detected in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said on Thursday. 

All three individuals had returned recently from abroad, health ministry spokesman Kamal al-Shakhrah said in a statement, as quoted by Reuters.

Shakhrah did not clarify where they had come from. 

They are residents of Ramallah, Hebron and Tubas, he said.

The ministry said earlier on Thursday that less than 140,000 Palestinians out of three million in the West Bank had gotten three Covid-19 vaccine jabs, and just over a million have received two shots.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Palestinian territories have reported 465,829 infections and 4,858 coronavirus-related deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

The World Health Organisation declared the recently discovered Omicron strain to be a "variant of concern", spurring a series of differing travel bans among various countries.

Israel, which occupies the West Bank, last month was the first country to close its borders to foreigners after news of the detection of the new variant. It has also reintroduced a measure giving Israel's internal intelligence agency overarching power to monitor and track phones to tackle the spread of the virus.