PARIS (Reuters) -France's Health Ministry said on Sunday it had detected eight possible cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant across the country after the government announced it would tighten restrictions to contain its spread.
Omicron is potentially more contagious than previous variants, although experts do not know yet if it will cause more or less severe COVID-19 compared to other strains.
"They are being considered as possibly being contaminated with the Omicron variant having been to southern Africa in the last 14 days," the Health Ministry said in a statement.
It said further tests were being carried out to fully confirm it was Omicron, but the people and those they had been in contact with were now in isolation.
France is in the midst of a fifth wave of the virus. It recorded more than 31,600 positive COVID-19 cases on Sunday having seen a sharp rise in the number of patients in intensive care the previous day.
Health Minister Olivier Veran had earlier told reporters at a vaccination centre in Paris that the government would do its utmost to contain the spread of the new variant.
He said that any contact that a person at risk of a possible case or a confirmed case of the Omicron variant, even vaccinated, would now have to isolate. Those people should be considered "high risk" and quarantined.
Until now, contact cases of an infected person had to be isolated only when they were not fully vaccinated or when they had weak immune systems.
France has also suspended all flights from southern Africa until at least Dec. 1 and stepped up protocols for people coming from its nearby overseas territories of La Reunion and Mayotte, the ministry said.
(Reporting by John Irish, Editing by Louise Heavens and Diane Craft)