Omicron variant may have reached Europe earlier than expected

By Raf Casert and Andrew Meldrum, The Associated Press November 30, 2021.

Passengers line up to receive a quarantine test upon arrival at Kansai International Airport in Osaka, western Japan on Tuesday, November 30, 2021. Japan on Tuesday confirmed its first case of the new variant of the omicron coronavirus, a recent visitor from Namibia, an official said. (Yukie Nishizawa / Kyodo News via AP)

BRUSSELS (AP) – The economic powers of Japan and France reported their first cases of the omicron variant on Tuesday, as new findings indicated that the mutant coronavirus had already infiltrated Europe almost a week before the South Africa is not sounding the alarm bells.

The RIVM health institute in the Netherlands has revealed that patient samples dating from November 19 and 23 contained the variant. It was last Wednesday, November 24, that South African authorities reported the existence of the highly mutated virus to the World Health Organization.

This indicates that omicron was further ahead in the Netherlands than previously believed.

Along with the cases in Japan and France, the finding illustrated the difficulty of containing the virus in the age of air travel and economic globalization. And it has left the world once again in a seesaw between hopes of a return to normal and fears that the worst is yet to come.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned in Latvia that “as long as the virus replicates somewhere it could mutate” ?? which could mean that it “may defeat existing vaccines or induce more serious disease or be more transmissible.” ??

Much remains unknown about the new variant, including how contagious it is, if it makes people more seriously ill, and if it can thwart the vaccine.

But a WHO official said given the growing number of omicron cases in South Africa and neighboring Botswana, parts of southern Africa could soon see a sharp rise in infections.

“It is possible that we will really see a doubling or tripling of the number of cases as we go along or as the week progresses,” said Dr Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, WHO regional virologist. .

After a period of low transmission in South Africa, new cases started to increase rapidly in mid-November. The country now records nearly 3,000 new confirmed infections per day.

It’s unclear exactly where or when the variant first appeared, and Tuesday’s Dutch announcement blurs the timeline even further.

Earlier, the Netherlands said it found the variant among passengers arriving from South Africa on Friday – the same day the country and other members of the European Union began imposing flight and travel bans. other restrictions in southern Africa. But the newly identified cases predate that.

Belgium has reported a case involving a traveler who returned to the country from Egypt on November 11 but did not become ill with mild symptoms until November 22.

Japan announced a ban on all foreign visitors from Tuesday – the same day the country confirmed its first case of omicron, in a Namibian diplomat recently arrived from his country.

France also recorded its first case, on the island territory of Reunion in the Indian Ocean. The patient was identified as a man who returned to Reunion Island from South Africa and Mozambique on November 20 – before the WHO learned of the variant.

Many health officials have tried to allay fears, insisting that vaccines remain the best defense and that the world must redouble its efforts to get all parts of the world vaccinated.

Emer Cooke, head of the European Medicines Agency, said the 27-country EU is well prepared for the variant and the vaccine could be adapted for use against omicron within three or four months if needed.

England has responded to the emerging threat by again making face covering mandatory on public transport and in shops, banks and hairdressers. And a month before Christmas, the head of Britain’s Health Security Agency urged people not to socialize if they don’t need to.

After COVID-19 resulted in a one-year postponement of the Summer Games, Olympic organizers began to worry about the February Winter Games in Beijing. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said omicron “will certainly bring challenges in terms of prevention and control.”

Global markets have continued to switch on all medical news, whether worrying or reassuring. Shares fell on Wall Street in the morning after the CEO of Moderna expressed concern about the effectiveness of omicron vaccines.

Most stocks around the world have slipped as investors assess the damage the variant could cause to the economy.

Some analysts believe that a severe economic downturn will likely be avoided because so many people have been vaccinated. But they also believe the return to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity, especially in tourism, has been significantly delayed.


Meldrum reported from Johannesburg. PA journalists from around the world contributed.


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