At least six European countries have already confirmed cases of the new covid-19 variant
13 confirmed positive cases of Omicron variant among passengers arriving in the Netherlands from South Africa
BarcelonaNew covid-19 variant Omicron, which was first detected in Botswana and South Africa, continues to spread rapidly. In the few days since the detection of this new strain was made public, cases have already been detected in at least six European countries and three more are investigating suspected cases. All this, despite the fact that the European Union acted very quickly and this Friday, the same day that the first case was confirmed in Europe, in Belgium, approved the suspension of all connecting flights to southern Africa.
In fact, the last two flights arriving from South Africa to the Netherlands before this suspension was put in place are where 13 positive cases of the new Omicron variant have already appeared. On Saturday, the Dutch government already reported that 61 passengers on these flights were in isolation because they had tested positive for covid-19, and it remained to be confirmed whether it was the new variant. This Sunday, the Dutch Health Minister has reported that in 13 cases the new variant's mutations had been detected and pointed out that there are probably more cases, since the results of some tests are still missing. Most of these travellers have been put in isolation in a hotel near the airport.
The G7 health ministers have called an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss this new variant of covid-19.
A part from the Netherlands, five more states on the European continent have now confirmed cases of the new variant, which is highly transmissible. The first to report a case of the Omicron variant was Belgium on Friday, but on Saturday the United Kingdom and Italy also reported cases. On Sunday morning, Austria reported its first case, and Denmark later announced it had detected two cases. All confirmed cases in Europe are in people who had recently travelled to a country in southern Africa. The British government also certified on Sunday a new case of the new variant in addition to the two already announced on Saturday. And France could soon be added to the list, since it is analysing eight possible cases.
"We are in a race against time," said the president of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, this Sunday, and noted that scientists "still need two or three weeks to have a clear idea of the quality and mutations of this Omicron variant", so that the population has to take all precautions while this happens. "We have to buy time," he added, urging people to get vaccinated, wear masks and keep their distance.
The new variant, about which little is yet known, has the highest mutation rate of any strain so far, which has led the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) to warn that it raises "a major concern that it may significantly reduce the effectiveness of vaccines and increase the risk of reinfection". The pharmaceutical company BioNTech, in fact, has already said this weekend that it could modify its vaccine to adapt it, if necessary, within 100 days. However, the first information suggests that the symptoms with the new strain would be mild.
Since it was detected in the middle of this week, cases of this new variant have already been confirmed in Botswana, South Africa, Hong Kong, Israel, Australia and Canada, in addition to the six European countries mentioned. In addition, both Germany and the Czech Republic reported on Saturday that they are investigating possible suspect cases in travellers who have tested positive for covid-19 on arrival in their countries from southern Africa.
To prevent the spread of Omicron, the European Union reached an agreement on Friday to suspend all connecting flights to southern Africa. But it was too late. Now authorities in the countries that have detected cases are asking everyone who has travelled to that part of the world in recent days to self-isolate and get tested. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has gone further and immediately approved some measures, such as mandatory PCR for everyone entering the UK and mandatory face masks across the country in shops and on public transport.
But Israel has been the most drastic and has imposed a total border closure for 14 days from midnight on Sunday to Monday.