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Omicron Outbreak: World on high alert as new variant spread to more countries

Brazil and Japan joined the rapidly widening circle of countries to report cases of the omicron variant

Omicron Outbreak: World on high alert as new variant spread to more countries
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Brazil and Japan joined the rapidly widening circle of countries to report cases of the omicron variant, while new findings indicate the mutant coronavirus was already in Europe close to a week before South Africa sounded the alarm.

The Netherlands' RIVM health institute disclosed that patient samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23 were found to contain the variant. It was on Nov. 24 that South African authorities reported the existence of the highly mutated virus to the World Health Organization.

That indicates omicron had a bigger head start in the Netherlands than previously believed. Together with the cases in Japan and Brazil, the finding illustrates the difficulty in containing the virus in an age of jet travel and economic globalization. And it left the world once again whipsawed between hopes of returning to normal and fears that the worst is yet to come.Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart the vaccine.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States' top infectious disease expert, said much more will be known about omicron in the next several weeks, and "we'll have a much better picture of what the challenge is ahead of us."

In the meantime, a WHO official warned that given the growing number of omicron cases in South Africa and neighboring Botswana, parts of southern Africa could soon see infections skyrocket.

"There is a possibility that really we're going to be seeing a serious doubling or tripling of the cases as we move along or as the week unfolds," said Dr. Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, a WHO regional virologist.

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