Coronavirus: United Kingdom fears Twickenham rugby match could be Omicron variant superspreader event

More than 80,000 rugby fans who attended a match last weekend are being urged to get tested for COVID-19 in a bid to stop the spread of the new variant Omicron.

Spectators of the England v Springboks match at Twickenham had to show proof they were double vaccinated and had tested negative in the past 48 hours.

But there are concerns over some of the fans who flew in for the event from South Africa, given the Omicron variant has been spreading in the country.

This latest variant was first found in Botswana and spread through southern African countries. It was then first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) from South Africa on November 24.

Preliminary evidence suggests that there's an increased risk of infection with the variant compared to others, WHO says, and Omicron has been detected as growing at a faster rate than other surges in infection.

High numbers of Omicron cases in South Africa means there should be extra vigilance around the rugby match, MP for Twickenham Munira Wilson says.

"While I'm confident the RFU [Rugby Football Union] will have had the necessary protocols in place to prevent any potential spread, this serves as a reminder that we all must remain vigilant in the fight against this virus," the Telegraph reported her as saying.

"Those who had flown in for the match and anyone who was in and around the stadium that day who has concerns should follow UK Health Security Agency advice in coming forward and getting tested.

"More broadly, the emergence of this new variant stresses the need to donate vaccines through the COVAX programme. Ministers must spring into action and recognise no one is safe from COVID until we all are safe."

Health officials may need to track as many as 9000 people who may have arrived from South Africa in the UK since the new variant emerged.

Two people carrying the variant have been identified in the UK - one in Chelmsford, Essex and the other in Nottingham - but none have been found in the London area around Twickenham yet.

In an effort to help curb the spread of Omicron, the UK government has introduced a 10-day hotel quarantine for arrivals from 10 southern African countries. These are South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Angola.

New Zealand has imposed a similar restriction and is requiring arrivals from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Seychelles, Malawi, and Mozambique to spend 14 days in managed isolation, as opposed to the now-standard seven-day stay. Only New Zealand citizens from these countries will be able to enter Aotearoa.