Omicron was in the Netherlands before South Africa exposed it

The omicron variant of Covid-19 was present in the Netherlands before it was first reported by South Africa, according to a report from BBC News.

Two Covid-19 test samples taken in the Netherlands between 19 and 23 November—before South Africa reported detecting Omicron—have been identified to contain the new variant.

“In a special PCR test, the samples showed an abnormality in the spike protein,” the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) said on Tuesday.

“This raised the concern that the omicron variant… might be involved. [Health officials] will notify the people involved and start source and contact tracing.”

It was previously thought that two flights that arrived from South Africa on Sunday could have brought the first cases of the variant to the Netherlands.

The RIVM also indicated that several different sub-variants of Omicron were found among the passengers on board Sunday’s flights.

“This means that the people were very probably infected independently from each other, from different sources and in different locations,” a spokesman said.

South Africa reported the omicron variant—known then as B.1.1.529—on Wednesday, 24 November.

This sparked a knee-jerk reaction from several countries such as the UK and US, who promptly closed their borders to travellers from South Africa.

Angelique Coetzee, South African Medical Association chair

According to Angelique Coetzee, chairwoman of the South African Medical Association, symptoms of the omicron variant tend to be less severe than the delta variant.

Compared to delta — which caused elevated pulse rates, low oxygen levels, and a loss of smell and taste — patients who have been infected with the omicron variant have complained of fatigue, head and body aches and occasional sore throats and coughs.

Coetzee said she suddenly started seeing patients complain of the symptoms on 18 November.

However, other health experts have warned that it’s too early to dismiss Omicron as a milder coronavirus variant, as much remains to be learned about its mutations.

President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Sunday, 28 November, emphasising the importance of vaccination in protecting South Africans against the omicron variant.

During his address, Ramaphosa announced that the government had set up a task team to undertake consultations on making vaccination compulsory for specific activities and locations.

“We realise that the introduction of such measures is a difficult and complex issue, but if we do not address this seriously and as a matter of urgency, we will continue to be vulnerable to new variants, and will continue to suffer new waves of infection,” Ramaphosa said.

The president also reprimanded the nations guilty of the knee-jerk decision to close borders to South African travellers.

“We are deeply disappointed by the decision of several countries to prohibit travel from a number of Southern African countries, including our own, following the identification of the omicron variant,” he said.

“This is a clear and completely unjustified departure from the commitment that many of these countries made at the meeting of the G20 countries in Rome last month.”

Now read: Expect over 10,000 new daily Covid-19 cases in South Africa by end of the week

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Omicron was in the Netherlands before South Africa exposed it