New information shows Omicron spread earlier than expected – NBC Los Angeles

New findings on the Omicron variant of the coronavirus made it clear Tuesday that the emerging threat entered countries long before they were defended, when two distant nations announced their first cases and a third reported its presence before South African officials sounded the alarm.

The Dutch RIVM Health Institute found Omicron in samples from November 19th and 23rd. The World Health Organization said South Africa first reported the variant to the UN health agency on November 24. Japan and France reported their first cases of new variant that has made the world flip again between hoping for a return to normal and fearing the worst is yet to come.

It remains unclear where or when the variant first appeared, or how contagious it could be – but that hasn’t stopped suspicious nations from rushing to impose travel restrictions, especially for visitors from southern Africa. These steps have been criticized by South Africa and the WHO has pushed against them and noted their limited effect.

However, recent news made it increasingly clear that travel bans would struggle to stop the variant from spreading. The German authorities said they had an omicron infection in a man who had neither been abroad nor had contact with anyone who was.

The WHO warned Monday that the global risk of Omicron was “very high” and that early evidence suggested it could be more contagious. Others sent reassuring messages, such as the head of the European Medicines Agency Emer Cooke, who insisted that the 27-nation European Union was well prepared for the variant. Although it is unknown how effective the current vaccines against Omicron are, Cooke said the vaccinations could be adjusted within three or four months if needed.

But nearly two years after the virus first got its grip on the world, the current response in many ways reflected the chaos of the early days, including arbitrary travel bans and a poor understanding of who was at risk and where.

Trying to allay fears, many officials insisted that vaccines remain the best defense and that the world must redouble its efforts to get vaccinations around the world.

The latest variant makes these efforts even more important, said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, noting, like many before, “as long as the virus replicates somewhere, it could mutate”.

In view of the new variant, some new measures were introduced to contain the spread.

England made face-covering compulsory again in public transport as well as in shops, banks and hairdressers. And a month before Christmas, UK Health Authority chief Jenny Harries urged people not to meet if they don’t have to.

And after COVID-19 had already resulted in a year-long postponement of the Summer Games, the Olympic organizers were concerned about the February Winter Games in Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Omicron “will certainly bring some prevention and control challenges”.

Japan had announced that it would ban all foreign visitors from Tuesday – but that was too late. It confirmed his first case that day, a Namibian diplomat who had recently arrived from his country.

As long as there are people left unprotected from the coronavirus, we’ll see variants like the new Omicron strain of COVID-19, says NBC medical correspondent Dr. John Torres.

World markets continued to sway with every medical news item, either worrying or reassuring.

Global stocks largely fell on Tuesday as investors carefully weighed how much damage Omicron could do to the global economy.

Some analysts believe that a serious economic downturn like last year will likely be averted because many people have been vaccinated. But they also believe that a return to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity, particularly in tourism, has been dramatically delayed.

In a world already unnerved by the more contagious Delta variant that has been filling hospitals again in many places, even in some highly vaccinated nations, the latest developments have underscored the need for the whole world to get their hands on vaccines.

“We have vaccination rates in the US, in Europe of 50, 60, 70%, depending on who you count. And in Africa it’s more like 14, 15% or less, ”said Blinken.

“We know, we know, we know that none of us will be completely sure until we are all.”

Trying to allay concerns about the newly identified variant of the coronavirus, Omicron, President Joe Biden told Americans, “We will combat this variant with scientific and knowledgeable measures and speed, not with chaos and confusion.”


AP journalists from around the world contributed.

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