Health authorities in Nepal have diagnosed two cases of Omicron coronavirus variant. According to the Ministry of Health and Population, two men - a Nepali and a foreigner - tested positive for the new coronavirus variant yesterday.

The Nepali national, who tested positive for Omicron, is 71, whereas the foreigner is 66. The fully vaccinated foreigner had come to Nepal by air on November 19 and had produced a recent negative PCR report upon arrival. The Nepali national had come into close contact with the foreigner. On November 23, both started showing symptoms of coronavirus infection and later tested positive for Omicron.

Sixty-six other people who had contacts with them were traced and all tested negative, the health ministry said. The samples were tested in National Public Health Laboratory.

Both the infected persons are staying in quarantine and health officials are monitoring their health.

"We were able to detect the new variant as we have set up a new protocol that requires gene sequencing of all the samples that test positive for COVID.

We were able to detect the new variant following the same protocol," said Samir Kumar Adhikari, assistant spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Population.

The health ministry has decided to increase surveillance and tests, as the new variant is said to spread faster than the earlier Delta variant.

Omicron has been detected in 36 countries, including Nepal, and 574 people have contracted it across the world, the health ministry said.

The health ministry has requested people to wear masks, maintain social distance, wash hands, use sanitiser, stay in a well ventilated room, take part in vaccination campaign, and avoid gatherings.

Nepal has been encouraging foreign tourists to visit the country in an attempt to revive its adventure tourism industry.

A version of this article appears in the print on December 7, 2021 of The Himalayan Times.