BRUSSELS – The Omicron version was already in the Netherlands when South Africa alerted the World Health Organization about it last week, Dutch health officials said on Tuesday, adding to the fear and confusion over the new version of the coronavirus in a weary world. Hopefully it had left behind the worst of the pandemic.

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The RIVM Health Institute in the Netherlands found omicrons in samples from November 19 and 23. The WHO said that South Africa first reported such information to the United Nations Health Agency on 24 November.

It’s unclear where or when the variant first emerged – but that hasn’t stopped wary countries from rushing to impose travel restrictions, especially on visitors from southern Africa. Those moves have been criticized by South Africa and urged against by the WHO, given their limited impact.

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Much is still not known about the variant – although the WHO warned that the global risk from the variant is “very high” and early evidence suggests it may be more contagious.

The Dutch announcement on Tuesday further worsened the timeline for when the new version actually emerged. Previously, the Dutch said they had found the variant among travelers from South Africa on Friday – but these new cases predate that.

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Meanwhile, officials in the East German city of Leipzig said on Tuesday they had confirmed infection with the Omicron variant in a 39-year-old man who was neither abroad nor had contact, news agency DPA reported. Leipzig is in the eastern state of Saxony, which currently has Germany’s highest overall coronavirus infection rate.

Meanwhile, Japan and France announced their first cases of the new variant on Tuesday.

French officials confirmed its presence in the French island region of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. Patrick Mavingui, a microbiologist at the island’s Research Clinic for Infectious Diseases, said the man who tested positive for the new variant is a 53-year-old man who had traveled to Mozambique and South Africa before returning to Reunion. had stopped.

The man was placed in quarantine. According to the public television reunion 1ere, Mawingui said he had “muscle aches and fatigue”.

A day after banning all foreign visitors as an emergency precaution against the variant, Japan also confirmed its first case in a visitor traveling from Namibia. A government spokesperson said the patient, in his 30s, tested positive upon arrival at Narita airport on Sunday and was isolated and is being treated at a hospital.

The fall in travel restrictions also continued on Tuesday.

Cambodia barred the entry of travelers from 10 African countries, citing danger from the version. The move comes two weeks after Cambodia reopened its borders to fully vaccinate travelers.

While it has urged against border closures, the WHO has insisted that while scientists are looking for evidence to better understand the type, countries should ramp up vaccination as quickly as possible.

The WHO said there are “considerable uncertainties” about the Omicron version. But it said preliminary evidence raises the possibility that the variant has mutations that could help it evade an immune-system response and increase its ability to spread from person to person.

Despite global concern, doctors in South Africa are reporting that patients so far mostly suffer from mild symptoms. But they warn it is early and most new cases are in people in their 20s and 30s, who do not usually get sick from COVID-19 like older patients.