PARIS (AP) – Japan and France confirmed their first cases of the novel coronavirus on Tuesday as countries around the world struggled to close their doors or find ways to limit its spread as scientists study how dangerous it can be.
The World Health Organization has warned that the global risk associated with the omicron variant is “very high” based on early evidence, saying it could lead to surges with “serious consequences.”
French authorities on Tuesday confirmed the first case of an omicron variant on the French Indian Ocean island territory of Reunion. Patrick Mavingui, a microbiologist at the island’s infectious disease research clinic, said the person who tested positive for the new variant is a 53-year-old man who traveled to Mozambique and stayed in South Africa before returning to Reunion.
The man has been quarantined. According to public television Reunion 1ere, he has “muscle aches and fatigue,” Mavingui said.
Japan on Tuesday confirmed its first case in a visitor who recently arrived from Namibia, a day after banning all foreign visitors as an extreme precaution against the option. A government spokesman said the patient, a 30-year-old man, tested positive upon arrival at Narita Airport on Sunday, was isolated and is being treated in a hospital.
Cambodia has banned travelers from 10 African countries from entering, citing a threat from the omicron option. The move comes just two weeks after Cambodia reopened its borders to fully vaccinated travelers on November 15.
The new version was first discovered a few days ago by researchers in South Africa.
WHO said there was “significant uncertainty” about the omicron option. But it says preliminary evidence raises the likelihood that the variant has mutations that could help it both avoid an immune response and increase its ability to spread from one person to another.
WHO stressed that while scientists are looking for evidence to better understand this option, countries should accelerate vaccination as soon as possible.
Despite global concern, doctors in South Africa report that patients are still showing mostly mild symptoms. But they warn that it’s early. In addition, most new cases are in people between the ages of 20 and 30, who generally do not get COVID-19 as badly as older patients.