A few days after the notification to the WHO of the presence of the Omicron variant in South Africa, many countries suspended their air links with the country. But wasn’t it already too late?
On November 24, 2021, South Africa reported to the World Health Organization () the presence of a new variant of on its territory. Two days later, it was classified as a variant of concern and named Omicron. Discovery of the Omicron variant coincides with a dramatic increase in cases of in South Africa, especially in the Johannesburg region, a month after the end of the June-October peak fueled by .
The efforts ofand of of the South African government have lifted the veil on this variant like no other. He belongs to the line B.1.1.529 whose origins Still elude scientists, as are the effects of its hyper-mutated S protein on its behavior. In the wake of this report, many countries suspended their air links with South Africa and its neighbors, also affected by the from Omicron. All of southern Africa is becoming inaccessible. that do not stop the progression of a virus. Long before the November 24, 2021 report, the Omicron variant was already in Europe.
The Omicron variant present in the Netherlands and Scotland mid-November
The National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) of the Netherlands indicates that cases of the Omicron variant have been identified in the country during samples taken between 19 and 23 November 2021. Due to a an abnormality in the S protein during , the RIVM requested sequencing to confirm the nature of the SARS-CoV-2 present. As of November 29, 2021, the results are in: two of these samples are positive for the Omicron variant. The link with South Africa is not confirmed. On November 26, 2021, 641 passengers on a flight from South Africa were detected at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Among them, 61 cases of Covid-19, including 14 cases of the Omicron variant have been identified.
In Scotland,from November 20, 2021, four days before the report to the WHO. These infected individuals, gathered for a private party, did not a priori no direct link to South Africa or contact with a third party who has recently traveled to the country. Surveys contact tracing are still in progress to trace the source of the contamination.
Omicron outside South Africa prior to reporting and flight restrictions
If the report from South Africa took place on November 24, 2021, a sample in which the Omicron variant was identified. This is the oldest confirmed case known to date. The time for health authorities to sequence, assemble, understand and submit the of the Omicron variant at WHO and in the world, he had already left the territory. The air restrictions decided after the fact have not changed the situation. South Africa has felt sanctioned for reporting a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the contagiousness and severity of which are not yet known.
At the time of writing, around 20 countries have declared the presence of the Omicron variant on their territory. In South Africa, it represents 73.5% of the variants sequenced over the past four weeks.