Omicron variant timeline 

  • Monday 22 NovemberThe Variant is found in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong
  • Tuesday 23 NovemberUK Scientist raises alarm over 32 mutations
  • Wednesday, 24 NovemberDowning Street insists that strain is not an “issue”, but ministers work behind-the scenes
  • Thursday 25 NovemberSouth Africa reports record cases. Britain bans flight restrictions
  • Friday, 26 novembreStrain discovered in Belgium and other countries near the world’s borders

In response to an unimaginable super mutant variant, today’s world has cut off access from Southern Africa.  

B.1.1.529 — which has now been named Omicron— was first picked up in Hong Kong on Monday in a patient who had travelled from South Africa.

The 32 “horrific” mutations of the British scientist who discovered them in Botswana were also reported by social media users.

Boris Johnson spokesperson claimed that the variant wasn’t an issue on Wednesday afternoon, despite UK experts warning of a terrible set of mutations which could make it immune to vaccines.

The South African government was forced to alert the world at a somber press conference on Thursday. They admitted that the strain had caused an “exponential” rise in Guateng and would likely be in all corners of the country. It was outpacing Delta with ferocious pace.

UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA), said that they were closely monitoring the situation but did not believe it to be a danger for the UK. Chris Whitty was among other notable experts who warned about a possible global outbreak that could threaten the UK’s vaccine program.

On Thursday evening, senior scientists gave a briefing to journalists. It was a rushed briefing in which they told reporters that this variant was more vaccine evasive then Delta.

According to media, the strain is the most severe ever seen and the variant may be up to 40% more immune-evasive. 

At the same moment, a Covid emergency committee cabinet meeting met to discuss Britain’s next steps for dealing with this variant.

This prompted Sajid Javid, Health Secretary, to quickly announce last night that six African countries would be exempted from travel restrictions in the southern part of Africa.

Today, scientists warned that the strain could lead to the return of severe Covid restrictions.

There were new cases in Israel, then Belgium, and European countries started to close their borders to South Africa-bound people. Passengers couldn’t leave an airplane in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

MailOnline examines how the Botswana-based variant sparked a global pandemic in just 48 hours. 

Monday and Tuesday

After discovering the strain among two South African passengers, researchers in Hong Kong raised the alarm on Monday.

It was also picked up in Botswana, where it was sequenced three times, and South Africa — who had only seen one case at the time. 

Researchers from each of the three countries contributed it to an international repository that includes variants for experts around the globe, which also included the UK.  

Dr Tom Peacock, a British virologist at Imperial College London who works with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), voiced concern about the strain’s 32 ‘horrific’ mutations — twice as many as Delta — on Tuesday.

Dr Peacock shared his thoughts via social media. 


MailOnline reported the story about this variant Wednesday before No10’s spokesperson dismissed it as “not considered an issue”. Experts were concerned that the variant would make it more difficult to get vaccines than Delta.

Some scientists dismissed fears, saying the strain’s large amount of mutations meant it could become unstable — meaning it would be unlikely to become widespread.

Others warned that if the Delta version in South Africa is taken over, it could cause ripple effects throughout the globe.

Francois Balloux of University College London is a geneticist and said the infection likely developed in a lingering infection among an immunocompromised patient or someone living with undiagnosed AIDS. 

He said it was likely the variant would be much more able to dodge antibodies than Delta.

MailOnline spoke to Professor Balloux, who said that the condition should be carefully monitored for now. It is important to monitor it closely, but not too much, unless the frequency starts increasing. 

MailOnline understood that behind the scenes there had been ‘extensive discussions’ between scientists from Britain and South Africa on Wednesday, and Thursday.   


On Thursday, cases began to increase exponentially in South Africa’s Guateng Province. A particular rise was seen in Johannesburg where 93% of the cases were created in one day. 

The South African Government held a press conference on the same day, saying that they are ‘concerned by the jump in evolution in this variant’.  

British ministers were called to an emergency meeting of the Covid Operations Cabinet Committee on Thursday, chaired by Cabinet Office minister Steven Barclay, to discuss shutting Britain’s borders to travellers from Africa. 

They were told vaccines would be at least 40 per cent less effective against the variant — because of a mutation it shares with the original South African Beta variant — at the meeting.

Sajid Javid, Health Secretary, attended, but Boris Johnson, Housing Minister, and Michael Gove were not present.

This was due to the concerns of Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer and Dr Jenny Harries, UKHSA boss.

According to passengers on the last flight back from South Africa, there were no additional restrictions 

Passengers arriving into the UK on one of the last flights from South Africa have revealed they were not offered tests and left to mix with hundreds of others despite mounting concern over the new variant.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has announced that flights from South Africa – as well as  Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe – will be suspended from midday. All of them have been added to the red list. 

But passengers arriving from Johannesburg – the capital of the province of Gauteng where the variant was first identified – were subjected to ‘no additional precautions’, according to one of the people on the flight – one of three arriving at Heathrow before the ban comes into force.

Writer and political commentator Adam Schwarz tweeted: ‘A friend arrived in London this morning on one of the last flights from South Africa. The plane was met by health officials, and no extra precautions were taken for hundreds of passengers.

The captain then read out the statement “advising” self-isolation. However, it is at passengers’ discretion and cannot be legally enforced. The airport shuttle took passengers to baggage claim, where they mixed with many other flights. The airport shuttle to baggage reclaim was not available for passengers.

Sources within the Government said that Whitty and other experts had advised them to take action. They wanted it to be out there as quickly as possible.

According to insiders, they were reacting out of an “abundance caution”. Only Wednesday’s issue came to our attention at No10. Sources claim that they have made more progress than previous decisions. 

Later, UK Government Scientists briefed media members at an hurriedly organized press conference held last night at 7.45pm.

According to a senior UKHSA (Health Security Agency) specialist, “This is the worst variant that we’ve seen.”

Experts from the UKHSA have been advising ministers on the issue, with a number of scientists expressing serious concern over the variant due to the significant number of mutations in the spike protein.

According to one senior scientist, “One of our main concerns is that this virus spike protein is so drastically different from the virus spike in the original Wuhan strain and thus in vaccines that it is causing great concern.” 

Sajid Javid released a video on Twitter on Thursday night at around 8.50pm announcing the Government was banning all flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe.



This morning, scientists warned Britain they might have to acknowledge the return of severe lockdown restrictions during Christmas.

Professor Adam Finn (a member of Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) raised earlier the possibility of locking down curbs being reintroduced. He warned that people must be braced for a ‘change in restrictions’ if the variant spreads to the UK.  

Dr Susan Hopkins (UKHSA’s chief medical advisor) warned that the strain could have entered Britain already.

She said ‘people are arriving every day’ to the UK from Belgium, South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel where the variant has been officially detected. 

Belgium’s Health Ministry said that a case had been identified in a young, unvaccinated woman after she developed symptoms. The woman had been in Egypt for 11 days. 


Israel discovered a similar case in an unvaccinated patient, which means that it is now confirmed on three continents. He had just returned from Malawi. Other suspected cases are under investigation. 

South African passengers who flew to Holland via South Africa were forbidden from getting on the plane. This was because the continent had increased its security measures to prevent the strain.

Today’s midday deadline for flights from six African countries to Britain was set. This was despite No10 having removed the no fly travel red list just weeks before. 

Yet, British arrivals from the variant’s epicentre Johannesburg were left to mingle with hundreds of others as they flew into Heathrow on the last flights out of Africa before the red list was re-imposed at midday. They were not questioned nor tested on their past travels.

People who arrived from the variant epicentre Johannesburg claimed they were not subject to any additional precautions. Some others shared how they managed to get around the ban and fly to different countries before landing in the UK. 

Ursula von der Leyen urged the EU to lift the “emergency brake” on travel from South Africa following the announcement. 

President of the EU Commission stated that all air travel from these countries must be stopped until we are more aware about the potential dangers posed by this variant. Now is the time to act swiftly, decisively, together in Europe.