COVID Omicron variant was in Europe earlier than first detected

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has probably been rampant in Europe for a while, according to a report from the Dutch health institute.

Israelis at Ben-Gurion Airport as coronavirus cases increase, August 5, 2021. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
Israelis at Ben-Gurion Airport as coronavirus cases increase, August 5, 2021.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)

The Omicron variant, first detected in South Africa, appears to have reached Europe, specifically in the Netherlands, much earlier than previously thought, according to a report published Tuesday from the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). 

According to the report, two local infections with the mutation were discovered up to eleven days ago. The first reports of cases of the Coronavirus variant, which was initially detected in South Africa, came last week. RIVM said it discovered traces of omicron in samples dating from Nov. 19-23. In these cases, it is so far unclear whether those infected had been in South Africa.

The institute announced that it is initiating an investigation to determine how far the Omicron variant has already spread in the Netherlands. Additional samples from previous Corona tests will be re-examined for this purpose.

Statistics from South Africa indicate that the Omicron variant is significantly more contagious than previous variants.According to the WHO, no deaths have been reported so far in connection with the Omicron variant.

Scientist Susan Hopkins from Imperial College in London, for instance, called Omikron "the most worrying variant we have ever seen". Above all, the comparatively high number of mutations in the new variant are the cause for concern.

  Empty syringes are pictured after a coronavirus vaccinations at a doctor's office in Berlin, Germany, November 2, 2021.  (credit: REUTERS/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE/FILE PHOTO) Empty syringes are pictured after a coronavirus vaccinations at a doctor's office in Berlin, Germany, November 2, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE/FILE PHOTO)

According to South African doctors, however, the severity of the disease could generally be milder than with previous variants. 

More than 30 mutations on the spike protein on the surface of the virus have already been discovered. By comparison, the number of mutations in the delta variant is about half that number.