BRUSSELS (AP) — Dutch health authorities say the omicron variant was already in the Netherlands when South Africa alerted the World Health Organization about it last week.
Tuesday's announcement is adding to fear and confusion over the new version of the coronavirus in a weary world hoping it had left the worst of the pandemic behind.
The Netherlands’ RIVM health institute found omicron in samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23. The WHO said South Africa first reported the variant to the U.N. healthy agency on Nov. 24.
It remains unclear where or when the variant first emerged — but that hasn’t stopped wary nations from rushing to impose travel restrictions.
Much is still not known about the variant — though the WHO warned that the global risk from the variant is “very high” and early evidence suggests it could be more contagious.
Watch the White House COVID-19 Response Team provide an update on the pandemic and the new variant:
Much of the world is anxiously waiting to learn more about the omicron variant, which was first identified by researchers in South Africa. Since then, it has appeared as far apart as Hong Kong, Australia, and Portugal. Canada, our neighbors to the north, have also identified cases of the variant.
The World Health Organization has classified the omicron variant, otherwise known as B.1.1.529, as a “variant of concern.” No cases of the variant have been identified in the U.S. as of Monday morning, but officials say it’s only a matter of time.
“Sooner or later, we’re going to see cases of this new variant here in the United States. We’ll have to face this new threat, just as we faced those that’ve come before it,” said President Joe Biden during remarks on Monday.
Biden has said the variant, “is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci told Biden that it will take about two more weeks to have more definitive information on the transmissibility, severity, and other characteristics of the omicron variant, but the expert continues to believe that existing vaccines are likely to provide a degree of protection against severe cases of COVID-19, according to the White House.
The Biden administration says Fauci also reiterated that boosters for fully vaccinated individuals provide the strongest available protection from COVID-19.
All adults are now eligible for a booster if they were vaccinated six months ago or more with Pfizer or Moderna, or two months ago or more with Johnson & Johnson. The COVID Response Team’s recommendation to all vaccinated adults is to get a booster shot as soon as possible.