The Palestinian health ministry said on Sunday it had identified the first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the Gaza Strip.
The carrier is a Gaza resident who was infected within the coastal territory, ministry official Majdi Dhair told a news conference.
Dhair said this meant the variant, first identified in southern Africa and Hong Kong last month, existed in Gaza and was now spreading among the population. The discovery poses a new challenge to the enclave's under-developed health system.
"We are ahead of difficult days. It is expected that the Omicron variant will spread fast," he told reporters. Gaza, with a population of 2.2 million people, has registered 189,837 COVID-19 infections and 1,691 deaths.
Dhair urged Gazans to get vaccinated, putting the percentage of those who had already received shots at around 40 percent.
About a month ago the Palestinian health ministry said that it had identified the first cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant on territory under its jurisdiction in the West Bank.
Three cases of Omicron variant had been detected among Palestinians on Dec. 16 and all were individuals who had recently returned to the West Bank from abroad, Health Ministry Spokesman Kamal Al-Shakhrah said in a statement.
The number had since risen to 23 among the 3.1 million population, Palestinian health authorities said.