The Netherlands says the Omicron variant was present in the country earlier than previously thought

The Omicron variant was confirmed in two test samples taken on November 19 and November 23, the National Institutes of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) said on Tuesday.

RIVM virologist Chantal Reusken told national broadcaster NOS that one of the people “may have contracted the virus in the Netherlands. Exactly how is still under investigation.”

Dutch authorities previously believed that the first cases of the Omicron variant arrived on November 26 after 14 passengers on flights from Johannesburg and Capetown tested positive.

Omicron, also known as B.1.1.529, has an unusually high number of mutations, raising concerns that it could avoid vaccines and prolong the pandemic.

Two new cases discovered in the Netherlands bring the total number of confirmed Omicron cases in the country to 16, RIVM said. To date, at least 20 countries and territories have confirmed cases of the Omicron variant, the latest of which is Brazil.

In at least 70 countries, among them the United States, has imposed new travel restrictions from several African countries after Omicron was first identified by South African scientists.

But many health experts have dismissed the reasoning behind the bans, with studies showing that travel restrictions can only delay the introduction of a new virus or variant by a few weeks.

The World Health Organization has repeatedly expressed concern that the travel ban harms economies and discourages countries from being upfront about reporting new viruses or variants.

On Tuesday, the WHO again urged countries to avoid implementing a knee-jerk travel ban, saying they were not “stopping the international spread” and “burdening lives and livelihoods.”

“The imposition of travel bans targeting Africa is an attack on global solidarity,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti. “Covid-19 is constantly exploiting our parts. We will only improve the virus if we work together to find solutions.”


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