Omicron was present in Europe before South Africa reported its first cases, data shows

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So far, more than a dozen countries and territories have detected cases, including Australia, Britain, Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy and Portugal

A sign reading “Stay Safe” in Regent Street, London on Friday November 26th. A slew of countries decided to halt air travel from southern Africa on Friday, and shares plunged in Asia and Europe in response to news of a potentially more new variant of COVID-19. transmissible. AP / Alberto Pezzali

The Hague: The Omicron coronavirus variant was present in Europe before the first cases were reported in South Africa, new data from the Netherlands showed on Tuesday, as Latin America reported its first two cases in Brazil.

In the week since the new virus strain was reported to the World Health Organization by South Africa, dozens of countries around the world have responded with travel restrictions – most targeting countries southern Africa.

But the World Health Organization warned on Tuesday – as Canada expanded its restrictions to also include Egypt and Nigeria – that blanket travel bans risked doing more harm than good.

And the likely futility of sweeping travel restrictions was underscored when Dutch authorities reported Omicron was in the country before South Africa officially reported its first cases on November 25.

The new variant – whose high number of mutations, according to the WHO, could make it more transmissible or resistant to vaccines – was found in two Dutch test samples from November 19 and 23, one with no history of trip.

With countries now on alert for the Omicron variant, a clearer picture emerges on the day it runs and for how long.

So far, more than a dozen countries and territories have detected cases, including Australia, Britain, Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy and Portugal.

Among European countries, Belgium and Germany both reported cases of the new strain before November 25, but both were linked to overseas travel.

Latin America reported its first two cases on Tuesday – in people who traveled from South Africa to Brazil – and a first case was confirmed in Japan, a day after banning all foreign arrivals.

Vaccine resistant?

While much is still unknown about the Omicron variant – it could take weeks to determine if and to what extent it is vaccine resistant – he highlighted that the global fight against COVID-19[female[feminine is far from over.

The Asian, European and US markets all fell on Tuesday, while the benchmark US oil price fell more than 5% after the boss of vaccine maker Moderna warned that existing jabs could be less effective against the new one. variant.

“All the scientists I have spoken to (…) say to themselves’ it’s not going to be good” “, Moderna boss Stéphane Bancel told the Financial Times, warning of a” significant drop ” the effectiveness of current moves against Omicron.

Moderna, US drug maker Pfizer and supporters of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V are already working on a vaccine specific to Omicron.

On the treatment front, a panel of U.S. health experts voted on Tuesday to approve Merck’s Covid pill for high-risk adult patients, which is already approved in Britain.

“Heavy load”

In a briefing to WHO member states, the agency’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was understandable for countries to seek to protect their citizens “against a variant that we do not yet fully understand”.

But he called for the global response to be “calm, coordinated and coherent”, urging nations to “take rational and proportionate harm reduction measures”.

The United Nations agency warned in a travel advisory that “blanket” travel bans could place a “heavy burden on lives and livelihoods” and could ultimately deter countries from sharing data on travel. evolution of the virus – as South Africa did in reporting the latest variant.

But he advised people not fully vaccinated and considered vulnerable to COVID-19[female[feminine , including those over 60, should postpone travel to areas of community transmission of the virus – after correcting a previous statement that said all over 60s should postpone their travel.

More severe measures

Omicron emerged as much of the world was already bracing for another winter wave of the pandemic – leaving even countries with high vaccination rates to scramble to contain infections and prevent health services from being overwhelmed.

Governments, especially in Western Europe, have already reintroduced mandatory face masks, social distancing measures, curfews or closures – leaving businesses to fear another bleak Christmas.

In Germany, new Chancellor Olaf Scholz said parliament would vote to make Covid vaccines mandatory by the end of the year – and a source in Scholz’s party told AFP he had “reported his sympathy “for such a rule.

Greece moved ahead on Tuesday by making vaccines mandatory for those over 60, while Norway will offer reminders to all adults before Easter, as preferable to a lockdown.

Britain, meanwhile, has set itself a target of delivering a third vaccine to all adults within two months, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying vaccination centers “will spring up like Christmas trees.”


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