The Omicron variant is spreading across Europe with at least 13 cases identified in the Netherlands - CNN
Nov 28, 2021 1 min, 48 secs
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." Those who tested positive were sent to isolation, the authorities said.

The Omicron variant was first identified by scientists in South Africa, who raised alarm over its unusually high number of mutations on Thursday.

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.

Biostatistician Professor Sheila Bird said the result from Amsterdam -- where about 600 passengers from two flights were tested and 61 came back positive, with at least 13 infected with the Omicron variant -- were concerning.

However, she said more data was needed.

She said the situation should be seen with "alert rather than alarm until more is known."

Variant of concern

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.

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 ...

certainly South Africa and any other countries should not be stigmatized for reporting it and doing the right thing," Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, told CNN in a phone interview.

However, Head said that travel bans, if used correctly, could play a role in controlling the outbreak.

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