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Omicron variant is spreading across Europe with at least 13 cases identified in the Netherland

The Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) said in a statement that the variant had been detected through the sequencing of 61 positive Covid-19 samples that were obtained at the airport on Friday.

The institute added that the sequencing work “had not been entirely completed” and that it was “possible that the new variant will be found in more test samples.”

The Omicron variant was first identified by scientists in South Africa, who raised alarm over its unusually high number of mutations on Thursday. Since then, at least 10 other have confirmed cases of the new strain, with several other reporting suspected cases.

Apart from South Africa, the variant has been found in Botswana, Belgium, Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark, United Kingdom, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Czech Republic and Hong Kong.

Travel bans and new quarantine requirements

The variant’s discovery and fast spread across the world is an uncomfortable reminder that the pandemic is far from over.

A number of countries have slammed their borders shut to travelers from southern Africa, with the European Union, Japan, Australia, the United States, Canada and many others banning travelers from countries including South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

The World Health Organization (WHO) designated the Omicron variant, originally referred to as B.1.1.529, a “variant of concern.” WHO said on Friday that early evidence suggest the Omicron variant, first identified in South Africa, could pose an increased risk of reinfection and said that some of the mutations detected on the variant were concerning.

World is put on high alert over the Omicron coronavirus variant

But WHO stressed that more research is needed to determine whether the variant is more contagious, whether it causes more severe disease, and whether it could evade vaccines.

“This variant has a large number of mutations and some of these mutations have some worrying characteristics,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19, said in a statement on Friday.

“Right now there are many studies that are underway … so far there’s little information but those studies are underway so we need researchers to have the time to carry those out and WHO will inform the public and our partners and our member states as soon as we have more information,” she added.

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