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Omicron variant reaches Latin America

Although Peruvian officials have not yet reported any cases of the Omicron variant, evidence suggests it has already reached the Andean nation

December 1, 2021 2:42pm

Updated: December 5, 2021 10:31am

A man who arrived in Japan from Peru was confirmed to be infected with the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters on Wednesday.

The man – who is reportedly a non-Japanese national in his 20s – tested positive for coronavirus upon arrival at Narita Airport near Tokyo on Saturday. Shortly after, Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases conducted a genome analysis and confirmed that he was infected with the enigmatic variant.

Peru has not yet officially reported any cases of the omicron variant, but the Japanese case provides strong evidence that the variant is already there. 

The first officially reported cases of the new and potentially deadly variant in Latin America were reported on Tuesday by Brazilian authorities.

According to Brazilian health regulator Anvisa, a traveler arriving in Sao Paulo from South Africa – and his wife, who had not traveled – tested positive for the new variant, adding to concerns that the variant might have already begun to spread before international travel bans went into effect.

The two Brazilians who tested positive for the variant are missionaries who could not provide documentation to prove their vaccination status, Sao Paulo Health Secretary Jean Gorinchteyn told CNN Brasil.

Following the omicron confirmation, the Sao Paulo state government said it would review plans to gradually ease mask mandates.

Latin American governments have implemented travel bans aimed at stopping travel from high-risk countries, but some governments are also reconsidering the gradual easing of standing restrictions with neighboring countries. 

On Tuesday, Ecuador’s foreign ministry announced that it would keep the country’s border with Peru closed in an effort to mitigate against the spread of the new variant.

"The Ecuadorian foreign ministry reiterates the decision to keep the land border with Peru closed, as a prevention and control response to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and its new variants," the ministry said in a statement.

"The country's authorities maintain frequent communication with their Peruvian counterparts, so that the reopening of the borders is carried out gradually and in an orderly manner," it added.

The government in Quito has also barred travelers from several African countries, including South Africa, from entering the county and will now require a vaccination certificate along with a negative PCR test for entry by air, land or sea.

While little is yet known about the new variant, scientists around the globe are rushing to determine if omicron – which has significant mutations compared to previous strains – is more infectious, deadly or able to evade vaccines.

So far, the new variant has been detected in the following countries, CNN reports

Australia: 7 cases 

Austria: 1 case

Belgium: 1 case

Botswana: 19 cases

Brazil: 2 cases

Canada: 6 cases

Czech Republic: 1 case

Denmark: 4 cases

France: 1 case (on Reunion Island)

Germany: 9 cases

Hong Kong: 4 cases

Israel: 4 cases

Italy: 9 cases

Japan: 2 cases

Netherlands: 16 cases

Nigeria: 3 cases

Norway: 2 cases

Portugal: 13 cases

Saudi Arabia: 1 case

South Africa: 77 cases

Spain: 2 cases

Sweden: 3 cases

United Kingdom: 22 cases