RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters)
Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said today (November 30) that two Brazilians had tested positive for the Omicron COVID-19 variant, the first reported cases of the new strain in Latin America.
Anvisa said a traveler arriving in Sao Paulo from South Africa and his wife, who had not traveled, both tested positive for the new variant, adding to concerns of global Omicron spread before recent travel bans went into effect.
The traveler landed at Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos international airport on November 23 with a negative test for COVID-19. But before a planned return trip, the couple tested positive and the samples were sent for further analysis, which identified the Omicron variant.
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The traveler arrived in Sao Paulo before the World Health Organization (WHO) first flagged the Omicron variant publicly and before Brazil resolved on Friday to suspend flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries.
The samples will be sent for a second confirmatory analysis, Anvisa said.
Omicron was first identified officially in South Africa last week, but data now shows it was circulating before then and it has since been detected in more than a dozen countries.
Scientists around the globe are rushing to determine if the new variant, which has significant mutations compared to previous strains, is more infectious, deadly or able to evade vaccines. That work is expected to take weeks.
In the meantime, countries around the world have imposed travel restrictions, mainly on flights coming from southern Africa.
The WHO said on Tuesday that blanket travel bans would not stop the new variant’s spread but would place a “heavy burden” on lives and livelihoods.