South African variant Omicron in Europe, “full attention”

A case identified in Belgium. Italy closes to arrivals from 8 countries

Omicron, an African variant of the covid found in South Africa, is in Europe. In Belgium, the first case was found in the Old Continent and measures were taken, including those of Italy which blocked arrivals from 8 countries. While the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic does not stop, another element of concern adds to the picture. The World Health Organization (WHO) has outlined the identikit of Omicron, which has passed from the status of a variant of interest to that of a variant of concern.


The first case of the South African variant in Europe was confirmed in Belgium. The patient, an unvaccinated young woman positive for variant B.1.1.529, came from Egypt after having made a stopover in Turkey. The test result was confirmed by the UZ Leuven University Hospital. The woman developed symptoms 11 days after the trip to Egypt. The patient, who has a high viral load, does not appear to have recently had ties to South Africa and Botswana, where the variant has been identified.


As part of an international mobilization, Italy has banned the entry of those who, in the last 14 days, have been to South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini and Malawi. “It would be irresponsible not to be worried”, said Health Minister Roberto Speranza, guest of ‘Zapping’ on Rai Radio 1. “I think we are in a difficult phase of managing this pandemic. The numbers especially in our piece of world, in Europe, are the numbers of a rather significant wave in progress “. And this new variant “has numerous mutations, over 30 of the Spike protein, and must be taken with great attention even if we do not have elements of certainty such as to be able to arrive at an analysis result, but it is clear that a line of great prudence has been chosen. “.

Speranza stressed that “the numbers of the Omicron variant are still limited, 100 cases sequenced in the world”. “We have a sequencing program in our country and research on these variants, which is done constantly. The same thing happens in most European countries. Now it is evident that we will look for it even more insistently – he said again – we will try to to further intensify the sequencing in ours as in other European countries. At this moment there is only one certified case in Europe, and it is in Belgium, but it is clear that there may be other cases in the next few days in other countries as well “.


Omicron was judged by the WHO as a ‘variant of concern’: “It has a large number of mutations, some of them of concern. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant compared to other variants of concern,” he explained. the World Health Organization in relation to variant B.1.1.529 at the end of the expert panel meeting that reviewed the available data on the mutant.


“The news about the new covid variant is very worrying. I spoke to scientists and” vaccine manufacturers “They share the concern: please get vaccinated quickly if you haven’t already and follow the rules to protect yourself,” he said. said Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission. “It is not excluded that updated versions of the vaccines currently available may be needed. “European Union contracts with manufacturers stipulate that the vaccine must be immediately updated to new variants that emerge. Europe has taken precautions.”

“Based on the available evidence,” the new variant “is likely to be associated with a very high level of transmissibility and significant immune leakage.” So far, however, “there is no evidence of changes in the severity of the infection,” noted the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) released in its weekly update on infectious diseases.