A doctor wearing personal protective equipment looks before a house-to-house coronavirus test is performed on July 21, 2020 in Lima, Peru.
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LONDON – With more cases of the new omicron Covid variant emerging around the world, experts say it is possible that the variant, first identified in South Africa last week, has already been circulating for some time.
At least 23 of five of the six WHO regions have now reported cases of oomicron, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday, “and we expect that number to rise.”
The United States then became the 24th country to confirm the first case of omicron. It was revealed in Fully vaccinated in North CarolinaThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Wednesday.
The United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union, among other countries, responded to alternative news last week by temporarily suspending flights from South African countries, or imposing a strict quarantine on anyone arriving from the region.
The move sparked outrage in South Africa and drew criticism from the World Health Organization, which said on Wednesday that such backlash could deter countries that sequence and report viral variants (such as the UK and South Africa, where key Covid variants have been found) from being transparent. In the future.
The omicron variant, or B.1.1.529 as it is officially known, The World Health Organization was first reported from South Africa on November 24. The first known sample dates back to November 9.
But there are now increasing signs that the alternative was circulating in other countries before South African health authorities alerted the world to its existence. There is an increasing number of cases being detected without contact with travel to the area, indicating that community transmission has occurred.
In Scotland in the United Kingdom, for example, 9 cases were discovered traced back to a “single special event” held on 20 November and none of the individuals involved are believed to have any recent travel history to South Africa.
Then, on Tuesday, Holland It said it identified an omicron variant in two test samples taken in the country between November 19 and 23 – Before the alternative was first reported by South Africa and the travel ban went into effect. It was initially believed that two flights arriving in Amsterdam from South Africa last Sunday had brought the first cases of Omicron to the country (there are now 14 confirmed cases in total).
On Tuesday, Germany also reported an omicron case of a man in Liepzig who had not been abroad, nor had he been in contact with anyone who had been.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, president of the South African Medical Association and the doctor who first sounded the alarm about one of the possible variants, told the BBC on Sunday she had done so after she began seeing patients around November 18 presenting with “unusual symptoms”. It differed slightly from that associated with the delta variant, the most virulent virus strain to date.
Meanwhile, Botswana, one of the countries affected by the Western travel ban in the wake of this option, said last Friday that it had first detected a variant on four foreign nationals who entered the country on diplomatic mission on November 7 (again, much earlier. It was reported from before South Africa) as part of regular Covid surveillance. It did not specify the domicile of the foreign nationals.
At a press conference held by the World Health Organization’s Africa office on Thursday, regional experts at the United Nations agency told CNBC that the origin of the omicron variant is unknown, and criticized restrictive travel measures imposed on South African countries.
“Our global surveillance system is not yet perfect,” Dr. Abdussalam Joy, regional emergency director for the World Health Organization’s Africa office, told CNBC Thursday.
“When we detect a variant or a virus…we usually find it weeks after it starts to develop. The only thing that we are sure of, when a country detects a virus, is that the surveillance system in that country is good. That’s what happened in South Africa, so that’s not It encourages travel bans more because… it’s like an action against a good monitoring system.”
He added that it was “not unexpected” that cases were now detected in Europe.
“its just [with] He added that the investigations that are currently taking place indicate that we will know more about the origins of this virus.”
His colleague, Dr. Nixi Gumed Moelitsi, chief virologist in the WHO’s Africa office, told CNBC that the number of countries reporting the omicron variant is increasing daily.
“It seems that the majority of these countries are not [reporting omicron cases] Now… they’re coming from abroad instead of here in Africa, so we don’t know where it all started and we need very good scientific evidence to study the molecular evolution of the omicron variant further. “
Europe-based experts tend to agree that Omicron will likely be traded for longer, and on a larger scale, than initially thought.
“The origin of Omicron remains unknown, including where it first spread,” Moritz Kramer, principal investigator in the Oxford Martin Program on Epidemiology at Oxford University, told CNBC Thursday.
“This is in part due to limited sequencing coverage and surveillance in some countries,” he noted, adding that South Africa has a well-established genome surveillance system.
“Personally, I don’t think there has been widespread circulation that has gone undetected for a very long time,” Kramer said. But he added that he expects the number of countries with imported and domestic transmission of omicron to be much higher than has been reported.
Experts widely expect this variant to spread rapidly given the early indications from South Africa, where 74% of virus genomes sequenced in the past month belong to the new variant.
Lawrence Young, professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, told CNBC Wednesday that “it is not surprising that Omicron has been circulated more widely and for longer than previously reported.”
“Once a variant is identified, particularly the type that is likely to be most contagious, it will have spread far beyond the few cases and countries of origin. That is the nature of infectious diseases in a world where international travel is so prevalent,” he said.
Some epidemiologists have speculated that the omicron variant could start spreading internationally around the end of October, a hypothesis that other experts CNBC spoke with agreed.
Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia’s Norwich School of Medicine, told CNBC on Wednesday that given the first known sample of omicron taken on November 9 in South Africa, “obviously the infection was quite a bit prevalent before that unless it was an index case. She is the one in which the variable evolved, but maybe not much sooner.”
While Danny Altman, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said he “definitely agrees that it is a possibility” that the Omicron variant was circulating before November, and that there is no certainty that it originated in South Africa.
“A point that I’ve drawn attention to with the growing issues and excellent sequencing around Goateng [in South Africa] From the second week of November it has not been proven that he originated near there or that this was the starting point.”