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The first confirmed cases of the variant in Latin America have been found in two travelers coming from South Africa.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart the vaccine
The omicron variant has been detected in two travelers returning to Brazil from South Africa, health officials reported Tuesday.
These are the first confirmed cases of the variant in Latin America.
Both travelers arrived in Brazil on November 23. Their positive test results were collected at the Gaurulhos international airport before a return flight to South Africa.
The Sao Paulo state health secretariat said a 41-year-old man and a 37-year-old woman are in isolation after testing positive for the variant. They showed light symptoms when they had their tests taken on November 25.
Another potential case of omicron had been under investigation by Brazilian authorities since Sunday.
In total, Brazil has now reported 614,681 deaths due to COVID, the world's second-highest death toll behind only the United States. Analysists believe this figure to be undercounted.
Brazil does not require foreign travelers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before entering the country.
The new omicron variant was first discovered on November 11 in Botswana. As fears mount over the new variant's potential vaccine resistance, Professor Adam Grundhoff from Hamburg's Leibniz Institute for Experimental Virology told DW he was "quite sure" vaccines will prove effective against the latest version of the virus.
"We already know that delta can [infect] vaccinated people, although they don't get seriously sick usually,” said Grundhoff. "I think that's going to be the same [with] omicron, although we might see a higher rate of breakthrough infections."
He added that "vaccines are very, very unlikely to lose their effectiveness totally."
Responding to concerns around the virulence of the variant, he said that "thankfully, we have not heard anything which would suggest that this variant is more pathogenic than other variants."
Japan reported its first omicron case on Tuesday, identified as a Namibian diplomat who had recently arrived to the country. The same day, Japan imposed a ban on all foreign visitors.
France recorded its first case in its Indian Ocean territory Reunion. Authorities said the patient was a man who had returned to Reunion from South Africa and Mozambique.
New findings from a Dutch health institute indicated Tuesday that the variant was already in Europe close to a week before South Africa reported its existence to the World Health Organization.