Brazil on alert after third case of Omicron variant

·2 min read
Vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) station in Rio de Janeiro

By Eduardo Simões

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil reported a third case of the Omicron coronavirus variant on Wednesday, casting doubt on plans to loosen containment curbs ahead of year-end holidays in response to a fall in infection numbers.

The latest case, an asymptomatic 29-year-old, tested positive at Sao Paulo's international airport after arriving from Ethiopia, the state health secretariat said.

On Tuesday, two Brazilian missionaries to South Africa had tested positive for the variant at the same airport, marking the first Omicron cases reported in Latin America.

Sao Paolo state health authorities said on Wednesday that all three carriers of the new variant had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, though it was not immediately clear when they had received their shots.

The state government said it would review plans to ease mask-wearing requirements in light of the new variant's presence in the state.

State Health Secretary Jean Gorinchteyn urged millions of Brazilians who have only received their first COVID-19 shot to complete their vaccinations in order to slow the spread of the virus.

Omicron was first officially identified in South Africa last week, but data 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 World Health Organization that blanket travel bans would not stop the new variant's spread.

(Reporting by Eduardo Simões; Additional reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by Brad Haynes and John Stonestreet)

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