LISBON - Portugal detected 13 cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus on Monday, all involving players and staff members of Lisbon football club Belenenses SAD, after one player recently returned from South Africa, health authority DGS said.
The new variant, which according to the World Health Organisation is likely to "spread internationally", was found after Belenenses played a Primeira Liga match against Benfica on Saturday.
The game started with only nine Belenenses players on the pitch because the rest were isolating and only seven returned to the field after halftime. The match was abandoned two minutes into the second half with Benfica leading 7-0.
A club spokesman said 44 players and staff, including himself, were self-isolating at home and waiting to repeat the tests.
"Two or three players and two or three staff have symptoms, but nothing too serious, the rest are asymptomatic," he added.
Benfica and Belenenses presidents told a news conference on Saturday they had no choice but to play the match or risked being punished for an "unjustified absence". They blamed the league and DGS for not allowing the game to be postponed.
DGS chief Maria da Graca Freitas told SIC broadcaster it was not up to the health authority to postpone the game but to assess the Covid-19 situation and implement measures such as putting people in isolation.
Nearly all the players had been vaccinated but still contracted the disease, she said, adding that it was good news that most were asymptomatic.
Portugal, which has one of the world's highest vaccination rates against Covid-19, suspended flights to and from its former colony Mozambique from Monday to prevent the spread of the variant, which was first detected in southern Africa, and last week announced the return of restrictions.
Potentially more contagious than prior variants, Omicron has also been found in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy and the Netherlands.
Belenenses defender Cafu Phete tested positive for Covid-19 after returning on Nov. 17 from international duty in South Africa.
Belenenses, including Phete, played against third-division club Caldas on Nov. 21. A Caldas spokesman said they would test their players.
A Benfica spokesman said none of their players were in isolation as the Belenenses players they faced on Saturday were not considered high-risk contacts. Benfica's next match is scheduled for Friday.