- The Omicron variant of Covid-19 was present in Europe at least 10 days ago and already appears to be spreading in the Netherlands and elsewhere.
- Evidence that the Omicron variant had arrived in Europe earlier than previously known came as Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to US president Joe Biden, said the tally of Omicron variant cases had reached 226 in 20 countries, although it had not yet been detected in the US.
- The Dutch announcement further muddies the timeline of when the new variant first emerged in Europe.
- A coronavirus test lane at Schiphol airport for travellers from South Africa.
- The WHO has warned that the global risk from the Omicron variant is “very high” based on early evidence, saying it could lead to surges with “severe consequences”.
Covid-19’s Omicron version has been detected in Europe for at least 10 days and appears to be spreading in the Netherlands and elsewhere as reported by The Guardian.
The Omicron coronavirus strain was discovered in two test samples obtained on November 19 and 23, according to a statement released by the Dutch health ministry on Tuesday. “It’s unclear whether these individuals also travelled to Southern Africa,” the ministry noted.
The discovery of evidence that the Omicron variant had arrived in Europe earlier than previously thought came as Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to US President Joe Biden, announced that the number of Omicron variant cases had risen to 226 in 20 countries, despite the fact that it had yet to be detected in the United States.
Despite the introduction of the new variety, Fauci said that evidence from South Africa, where Omicron was discovered last week, had so far revealed no unique symptoms, while it was unclear whether it could lead to more severe disease.
As a result of the concern about Omicron, 56 nations have imposed travel restrictions relating to the variation.
However, the World Health Organization warned governments against adopting “blanket” travel bans, advising individuals who are ill, have disorders that could lead to more severe Covid-19, and those above the age of 60 not to travel.
Instead of blanket prohibitions, the UN’s global health organisation advised: “Measures may include passenger screening before to departure and/or upon arrival, including use of SARS-COV-2 testing or quarantine of overseas travellers following a rigorous risk assessment.”
The Dutch declaration adds to the confusion about when the new variety first appeared in Europe.
The Netherlands had previously stated that the variation was discovered among travellers arriving from South Africa on Friday, although the latest instances predate that.
Omicron was discovered in samples from the 19th and 23rd of November, according to the Dutch scientific agency RIVM.
Those findings come before the positive cases of the variation discovered in at least 14 travellers returning from South Africa last Friday and tested at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.
German police stated they discovered an Omicron infection in a man who had never travelled overseas and had no contact with anyone who had. This is just another proof that the Omicron type is already being transmitted within Europe.
Despite global concerns, doctors in South Africa have indicated that patients are only experiencing minor symptoms so far, but they caution that it is still early.
Also, the majority of the new instances are among adults in their 20s and 30s, who are less susceptible to Covid-19 than older patients.
As countries around the world reported isolated cases of Omicron, from Scotland to Hong Kong, Japan, and France, the variant’s behaviour appeared to be following previous patterns of dispersal and identification, forcing health authorities to play catch-up, with the majority of cases linked to travel to southern Africa.
The head of the European Union’s medical agency said on Tuesday that the EU was prepared to cope with the Omicron version and that it would take two weeks to know whether the current Covid-19 vaccines could handle it.
Countries hit the hardest
If a new vaccination is needed to combat Omicron, Emer Cooke, the executive director of the European Medicines Agency, said it may take up to four months to have it licenced for use in the 27-nation union.
“We are prepared,” Cooke told EU lawmakers, adding that collaboration with the medical industry was already underway to prepare for such a scenario.
“We are aware that a mutation will occur at some point, necessitating a change in our current strategy.”
The development of the variation, which contains an exceptionally large number of mutations on its spike protein, has resulted in travel bans and increased restrictions in a number of nations, while others, notably the United Kingdom, have pushed to speed up vaccination programmes.
While the Delta variety is responsible for the vast majority of current coronavirus illnesses in Europe, some researchers are concerned that Omicron could evade vaccine protection and compete with Delta for dominance.
Andrea Ammon, chair of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) told an online conference that authorities in the bloc were looking into another six “possible” instances, adding that the confirmed cases were mild or asymptomatic but in younger age groups.
“We have to wait till the laboratory investigations with sera from persons who have recovered before we can judge whether [Omicron] escapes immunity.”
“These should arrive in a few weeks,” she replied.
The mutation has been found in two Israeli doctors, one of whom recently returned from a meeting in London.
According to early research, the global risk from the Omicron variation is “extremely high,” and it might lead to surges with “serious consequences,” according to the WHO.
Researchers in South Africa discovered the new variation last week, as a growing number of cases attributable to Omicron in Botswana and South Africa appear to be on the verge of a “steep surge.”
Dr Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, a WHO regional virologist, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that “there is a probability that we’re going to witness a major doubling or triple of the cases as we move along or as the week unfolds.”
The Omicron version has “substantial uncertainties,” according to the WHO.
However, preliminary research suggested that the variation may have changes that would let it dodge an immune system response while also increasing its potential to spread from one person to another.
While scientists search for data to better understand the variation, the WHO advises that countries expedite vaccines as soon as possible.
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Source: The Guardian