Photo: EVERT ELZINGA / EFE
The new variant of Covid-19, omicron, was present in the Netherlandss before what was thought, said the government of that country on Tuesday.
The new variant of the coronavirus was found in two samples taken between November 19 and 23, before South Africa first reported the finding of this mutation.
It is not clear whether those who tested positive in the Netherlands had visited South Africa.
It was previously thought that two flights arriving from South Africa on Friday they had brought the first cases of the variant to the European country. That day, of the 624 people who traveled from the African country to Amsterdam, 61 had tested positive for covid-19, and of those, in In 14 cases, the omicron variant had been detected.
However, although the two new samples reveal that omicron was in the Netherlands earlier than previously thought, do not predate the cases in southern Africa. The variant was first found in a sample taken on November 9, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Preliminary evidence suggests that omicron has an increased risk of reinfection. But scientists say it should take about three weeks before it is known how this variant – with multiple mutations – affects the effectiveness of vaccines.
“In a special PCR test, the samples showed an abnormality in the spike protein,” the Netherlands National Institute of Public Health (RIVM) said in a statement.
“This raised concerns that the omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus could be involved. [Los servicios de salud] they will notify those involved and begin the origin and contact tracing, “he added.
The RIVM also said that several different strains of omicron were found among the passengers aboard Friday flights.
“This means that people were most likely infected independently of each other, from different sources and in different places,” the RIVM noted.
Meanwhile, the Dutch authorities are trying to contact and screen thousands of passengers who traveled to that country from South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union and several Latin American countries have restricted travel from southern Africa amid concerns about the new variant.
But UN Secretary General António Guterres said that was “deeply concerned” about the isolation of southern Africa, adding that “the people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of available vaccines.”
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the wider region had been the victim of unfair discrimination, adding that the bans would not be effective in preventing the spread of the variant.
A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also said that the travel bans were “similar to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and ability to detect new variants faster”.
“Excellent science should be applauded and not punished,” he said.
The unknown about the origin of omicron
Analysis of Michelle Roberts, Health Editor de la BBC
It is unlikely that we will ever know precisely when or where omicron first emerged.
South Africa alerted the world to the new variant on November 24, after finding its first case. Since then, other countries have been looking for it and more cases have been identified around the world thanks to genome sequencing tests.
However, not all countries have the capacity to conduct these additional studies.
Even the UK, which is one of the pioneers in using the technology, cannot analyze all positive COVID cases to determine which variant is in each infected patient.
Meanwhile, PCR tests can indicate whether a covid case could be omicron, but they cannot confirm it with certainty.
It may interest you:
* 4 uncertainties that we still have about Covid-19 almost 2 years after its appearance
* Variante Ómicron arrives in Latin America; register first cases in Brazil
* Omicron: What is known and what is NOT known about this new variant of COVID
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.