Thomas Erdbrink, Henrik Pryser Libell, Natasha Frost and
Around half of the people who attended an office Christmas party in Oslo, where only vaccinated employees were admitted, have tested positive for the coronavirus after one guest recently returned from South Africa was found to carry the new Omicron variant, local health authorities said on Friday.
More than 120 people attended the event, held a week ago by a solar power company. Of the positive tests sequenced so far, between 15 and 20 were likely to be the Omicron variant, according to Dr. Tine Ravlo, a local chief physician involved in tracking the outbreak, who added that not all of the 60 coronavirus cases found so far had yet been fully checked for the variant.
“We are expecting more of them to likely be Omicron infections,” she said.
A spokesman for the company, Scatec, said that only vaccinated staff had been admitted to the party, and everyone had tested negative for the coronavirus before the event.
The party was held at a restaurant called Louise in central Oslo on Nov. 26, the same day that the World Health Organization labeled Omicron a “variant of concern” and many countries started closing their borders to passengers from southern Africa, where it was first identified.
The variant carries mutations that scientists say could allow it to spread more quickly and to cause more breakthrough infections, though much remains uncertain. Cases have now been reported in more than 40 countries, including in the United States.
The Scatec spokesman, Stian Tvede Karlsen, said that the employee first found to have the variant had arrived back in Norway from visiting a regional office in Cape Town before news of the variant had come out.
In order to curb further spread of the variant, the Norwegian government announced on Thursday additional restrictions in and around Oslo. Enforcement started at midnight.
They include the obligation to wear masks anywhere that social distance cannot be maintained, including on subways and buses or in shops; a return to working from home if possible; and a cap on crowds of 100 people, except at theaters and other places with fixed seats, where up to 600 can be present. Only table service is permitted for alcoholic drinks, and restaurants and events need to register guests.
In other news from around the world:
Nightclubs, restaurants and cinemas in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, reopened to vaccinated customers on Friday, more than 100 days after the city went into lockdown because of an outbreak of the Delta variant. The reopening comes as the country moved to its new post-vaccination “traffic light” classification system, in which unvaccinated people are mostly shut out of public life.
Officials in South Korea said on Friday that they would temporarily reverse the phased reopening they began last month, lowering the cap on group sizes for social gatherings and requiring proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test for entry to restaurants, cafes and other facilities starting next week. The announcement came as nearly 80 percent of the country’s hospital beds for patients with severe illness were in use, and days after six cases of the Omicron variant were confirmed among inbound travelers.
Ireland announced on Friday new restrictions ahead of the Omicron variant’s inevitable arrival, Reuters reported. Starting Tuesday and until Jan. 9, indoor events will be capped at half capacity, bars and restaurants can seat tables of only six people or fewer, nightclubs will close and residents can host no more than three other households in their own homes. The government will restart its Pandemic Unemployment Payment program for those who work in the entertainment industry and lose work because of the measures.
A pair of hippopotamuses at the Antwerp Zoo in Belgium have tested positive for the coronavirus, The Associated Press reported. Imani, 14, and Hermien, 41, are now in isolation, and their enclosure will be shuttered to the public until the land mammals test negative. The cases are the first recorded instances of the coronavirus in the species. It’s unclear how they got it.