Omicron variant was in Netherlands 11 days ago, officials reveal

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Dutch officials said the Omicron variant now circulating in Western Europe was first detected in the Netherlands as early as 19 November, days before South African officials sounded the alarm.

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The appearance of the new COVID variant in Europe earlier than previously thought raises the possibility that it is spreading unknown to health experts, adding to the confusion and concern at Omicron and the impact it may have on the pandemic.

So far, the focus was on two flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town, which landed at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on 26 November, carrying at least 14 people on the new variant.


However, Dutch officials have now said that Omicron was in the country before those flights arrived from South Africa.

The RIVM Health Institute in the Netherlands found omicrons in two samples on 19 and 23 November, days before South Africa first reported the type to the World Health Organization.

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The RIVM said it was not yet clear whether “these people”. [whose infections were detected earlier in November] has visited Southern Africa”.

South African passengers are tested for the Omicron variant upon arrival in a specially designed test lane at Schiphol Airport

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South African passengers are tested for the Omicron variant upon arrival in a specially designed test lane at Schiphol Airport

The presence of the variant comes after German officials said they had detected an Omicron infection in a person who was neither abroad nor in contact with anyone.

A total of 14 omicron cases have been found in the UK so far, while 42 cases of the variant have been confirmed in 10 EU countries. Japan and France were the latest to report their first cases on Tuesday.

The Netherlands has seen record daily infections in recent weeks, and an earlier partial lockdown has had little effect.

It has now gone into a tough lockdown, with bars, restaurants, non-essential shops, cinemas and theaters forced to remain closed from 5 pm to 5 am among public places.

Officials in South Africa first discovered the variant when they studied samples of the virus after struggling to explain the sudden increase in cases.

The variant appears to have a very high number of mutations – about 30 – in the spike protein of the coronavirus, which can affect how easily it spreads among people. Moderna CEO Stefan Bansel has also told financial Times that they expected existing vaccines to conflict with the Omicron version.


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