The Omicron variant of Covid-19 was present in Europe at least 10 days ago, even before South African health experts alerted the world of concerns about the transmissibility of the newly identified variant.
The Dutch health authority said it had found the Omicron variant in two local cases dating back 11 days, showing it was already in the heart of Western Europe before reports reached South Africa on November 24.
The RIVM health institute said it found Omicron in samples dating from November 19 and 23. These results predate positive cases found in passengers returning from South Africa last Friday and tested at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
Despite global concern, doctors in South Africa are reporting that patients have mostly suffered from mild symptoms so far, but are warning that it is early. Additionally, most of the new cases involve people in their 20s and 30s who typically do not get as sick from Covid-19 as older patients.
As countries around the world disclosed scattered cases of Omicron, from Scotland to Hong Kong, Japan and France, the behavior of the new variant appeared to follow previous patterns of dispersal and identification that have seen Health officials are rushing to catch up, with most cases linked to travel to southern Africa.
The disclosure of Omicron’s presence in Europe earlier than previously thought came as the head of the European Union’s medical agency said on Tuesday he was ready to treat the new variant of Omicron, and that it will take two weeks to find out whether the current Covid -19 vaccines will be able to cope with it.
Emer Cooke, executive director of the European Medicines Agency, said if a new vaccine was needed to counter Omicron, it would take up to four months for it to be approved for use in the 27-country bloc.
“We are ready,” Cooke told EU lawmakers, adding that cooperation with the medical industry was already underway to prepare for such an eventuality.
“We know that at some point there will be a mutation which means we have to change the current approach. “
The emergence of the new variant, which has an unusually high number of mutations on its spike protein, has resulted in travel bans and new restrictions in a number of countries, while others – including the UK – decided to speed up the vaccination programs.
While the overwhelming majority of current cases of the coronavirus causing the winter spike in infections across Europe remain the Delta variant, some experts fear that Omicron could escape the protections of current vaccines and compete with Delta for the domination.
As of Tuesday, 42 cases of the Omicron variant were identified in 10 European countries, according to the head of the EU’s public health agency.
Authorities in the bloc were analyzing six more “probable” cases, Andrea Ammon, who chairs the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), said at an online conference, adding that the confirmed cases were mild or not. symptoms, although in younger age groups. .
“To assess whether [Omicron] escapes immunity, it is still necessary to wait until the investigations in the laboratories with the sera of the cured people have been carried out. These are expected in a few weeks, ”she said.
The variant was detected in two Israeli doctors, one of whom returned from a conference in London last week. The doctor who had returned from Britain likely infected his colleague, a spokesperson for Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv said, adding that the couple had received three doses of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine and that they were showing up to now showing mild symptoms.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the global risk of the Omicron variant is “very high” based on early evidence, saying it could lead to flare-ups with “serious consequences.”
Japan confirmed its first case on Tuesday, in a recent visitor from Namibia, a day after banning all foreign visitors as an emergency precaution against the variant.
A government spokesperson said the patient, a man in his 30s, tested positive upon arrival at Tokyo Narita Airport on Sunday. He was isolated and is being treated in a hospital.
The new variant was first identified last week by researchers in South Africa.
WHO has said there are “considerable uncertainties” regarding the Omicron variant.
But he said preliminary evidence raises the possibility that the variant has mutations that could help it both evade an immune system response and increase its ability to spread from person to person.
WHO has stressed that if scientists are looking for evidence to better understand this variant, countries should speed up vaccinations as quickly as possible.
Agencies contributed to this article