Kiribati Ministry of Health and Medical Services has confirmed the Omicron variant is now spreading in the community after the results were confirmed by the Melbourne-based MDU PHL Doherty Institute.

A statement from the ministry said 39 samples were sent to Australia on 25 January for testing. 17 samples were collected from passengers from Fiji and 13 from community transmission cases. The 30 samples were confirmed to have the Omicron variant.

It said the remaining nine samples were invalid and cannot be processed due to the insufficient amount of RNA for sequencing.

The ministry also confirmed that of the 88 Kiribati workers sent to Australia last week, eight were confirmed with the Omicron variant after genome sequencing.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has confirmed 155 new Covid-19 cases including 14 in Butaritari.

The new cases on South Tarawa and Betio were confirmed through PCR lab tests while the Butaritari cases were confirmed through rapid antigen tests conducted at clinics on the Island.

The ministry said the new cases are currently in home quarantine due to the mild symptoms they display except for an 80-year old patient with asthma who was admitted to the Isolation Centre.

The health ministry said the number of Covid-19 cases in Butaritari is now 23, nine from passengers who arrived on a ship from Tarawa and 14 community transmission cases on the island.