Many government officials have tried to calm fears, insisting that vaccines remain the best defence against Omicron.

The Netherlands, France and Japan have reported their first cases of the new variant.
The Netherlands, France and Japan have reported their first cases of the new variant. (Reuters)

New findings about the coronavirus's Omicron variant have made it clear that the mutated virus slipped into countries well before South Africa raised the alarm.

The Netherlands’ RIVM health institute found Omicron in samples dating from November 19 and 23, AP reported on Tuesday. 

South Africa first reported the variant to the UN health agency on Nov. 24.

Japan and France reported their first cases of the new variant, putting people around the world between hopes of returning to normal and fears that the worst is yet to come.

The WHO warned on Monday that the global risk from Omicron is “very high” and that early evidence suggests it may be more contagious.

While it is not known how effective current vaccines are against Omicron, European Medicines Agency chief Emer Cooke said the shots could be adapted within three or four months if need be.

READ MORE: Moderna CEO: Existing jabs will struggle against Omicron – latest updates

Haphazard response

But nearly two years after the virus first held the world in its grip, the current response echoed in many ways the chaos of the early days, including haphazard travel bans and a poor understanding of who was at risk and where.

Many officials tried to calm fears, insisting vaccines remain the best defence and that the world must redouble its efforts to get the shots to every part of the globe.

The latest variant makes those efforts even more important, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, noting as many have before that “as long as the virus is replicating somewhere, it could be mutating.”

England made face coverings mandatory again on public transport and in shops, banks and hairdressers. And one month ahead of Christmas, the head of the UK’s Health Security Agency, Jenny Harries, urged people not to socialise if they don’t need to.

READ MORE: Covid-19 impact: Is it too early to return to full normalisation?

Emphasis on vaccination

In a world already unnerved by the more contagious Delta variant that filled hospitals even in some highly vaccinated nations, the latest developments underscore the need for the whole globe to get their hands on vaccines.

“We have vaccination rates in the United States, in Europe of 50, 60, 70 percent, depending on exactly who you’re counting. And in Africa, it’s more like 14, 15 percent or less,” Blinken said.

“We know, we know, we know that none of us will be fully safe until everyone is.”

READ MORE: Biden warns against Omicron panic, promises no new curbs

Source: TRTWorld and agencies