Brazil reports first Latin American cases of Omicron variant

Pedro Fonseca and Stephen Eisenhammer, Reuters

Posted at Dec 01 2021 07:48 AM

Syringes with needles are seen in front of a displayed stock graph and words
Syringes with needles are seen in front of a displayed stock graph and words "Omicron SARS-CoV-2" in this illustration taken, November 27, 2021. Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters File Photo

RIO DE JANEIRO/SAO PAULO - Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said on Tuesday that two Brazilians had tested positive for the Omicron COVID-19 variant, the first reported cases 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 Nov. 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.

The traveler arrived in Sao Paulo before the World Health Organization first flagged the Omicron variant publicly and before Brazil resolved on Friday to suspend flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries.

A second test on the samples confirmed the variant, the state of Sao Paulo said.

The two Brazilians who tested positive for the variant are missionaries, Sao Paulo Health Secretary Jean Gorinchteyn told CNN Brasil, adding that there was no documentation to suggest they had been vaccinated.

Following the Omicron confirmation, Sao Paulo state government said it would review a planned easing of rules around the use of masks.

Omicron was first identified officially in South Africa last week, but data now shows it was circulating before then and 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 despite warnings from the WHO that blanket travel bans would not stop the new variant's spread. (Reporting by Pedro Fonseca Writing by Stephen Eisenhammer Editing by Brad Haynes, Sandra Maler and Marguerita Choy)

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