Photo: Luis Alvarenga / Getty Images
Brazil detected the first cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in the country on Tuesday, which also represent the first infections in Latin America with this lineage of SARS-CoV-2 that has once again put the world on alert.
The two positives correspond to a man, 41, and a woman, 37, who reside in South Africa, the country where the new variant was discovered, and were visiting Brazil, according to the Government of Sao Paulo.
The couple disembarked on the 23rd at the Guarulhos international airport, in the metropolitan area of the São Paulo capital, but when they were preparing their return to South Africa they tested positive for covid-19.
The Albert Einstein Hospital, one of the most reputable private clinics in Latin America, then carried out the genetic sequencing of both samples and found, in a preliminary way, that they were infections with the omicron variant, whose potential is being investigated by the international scientific community.
The São Paulo health authorities confirmed the diagnosis shortly afterwards through the Adolfo Lutz Institute.
What’s more, Sao Paulo investigates another possible case of contagion with an omicron of a passenger who was in South Africa and tested equally positive for the coronavirus, which has already killed almost 615,000 people in Brazil and infected more than 22 million.
In addition, Brazilian authorities are investigating other possible infections with the new variant in travelers recently arrived from African countries, one in the state of Minas Gerais (southeast) and another in the Federal District of Brasilia.
Brazil, the gateway again
Brazil, one of the countries in the world hardest hit by covid-19, was also the gateway for the coronavirus in Latin America, with the first case registered on February 26, 2020, and it was also the place of origin of the “variant of concern” known as gamma or P.1, which arose in the state of Amazonas (north).
Now, in an attempt to prevent a new wave, the Government of Brazil suspended since last Monday flights from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe, and is considering extending that measure to Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.
However, lhe first cases of omicron in the country are of passengers who arrived in Brazil before that restriction was announced, which other countries have also adopted in order to prevent the dissemination of the new lineage in their territories.
Little is known about the omicron variant. At the moment, about twenty countries have registered at least one case. The first in America were reported in Canada.
It is suspected that it may be more contagious due to the high number of mutations (30) it has in the spike, which the virus uses to infect human cells, but it is unknown if it causes serious symptoms and if it reduces the effectiveness of the current vaccines.
Truce in Brazil
The omicron landing occurs at a time when Brazil is experiencing a certain pandemic stability, with the number of infections and deaths at their lowest levels practically since the outbreak of the virus in the country, in February 2020.
This truce is mainly due to the advancement of the vaccination campaign, which has allowed 75% of the 213 million Brazilians to have one dose and 63% the complete guideline.
Nevertheless, the rebound in covid-19 cases in Europe and the appearance of this new variant have put governors and mayors on alert, several of which have canceled in recent days the festivities planned for the end of the year.
The mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes, has not ruled out canceling the events and concerts scheduled to receive 2022, which usually gather millions of people on the iconic beaches of the tourist capital of Rio de Janeiro.
Likewise, the carnival of 2022, the biggest festival of Brazilian society, is also in the air, amid alerts from health specialists, who recommend caution and maintain certain preventive measures, such as the mandatory use of a mask, until the true potential of the omicron variant is discovered.
Ómicron: everything you need to know about the new variant of covid-19
Canada confirms the first 2 cases of the omicron variant of covid-19
Ómicron: Joe Biden meets with Fauci for the variant of covid-19