Brazil reports first Latin American cases of Omicron variant

Brazil suspended flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries on Nov 26. PHOTO: AFP

RIO DE JANEIRO (REUTERS) - Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said on Tuesday (Nov 30) that two Brazilians had tested positive for the Omicron Covid-19 variant, the first reported cases of the new strain in Latin America.

Anvisa said a traveller arriving in Sao Paulo from South Africa and his wife, who had not travelled, both tested positive for the new variant, adding to concerns of global Omicron spread before recent travel bans went into effect.

The traveller landed at Sao Paulo's Guarulhos International Airport on Nov 23 with a negative test for Covid-19. But before a planned return trip, the couple tested positive and the samples were sent for further analysis, which identified the Omicron variant.

The traveller arrived in Sao Paulo before the World Health Organisation (WHO) first flagged the Omicron variant publicly and before Brazil resolved on Friday to suspend flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries.

A second test on the samples confirmed the variant, the state of Sao Paulo said.

The two Brazilians who tested positive for the variant are missionaries, Sao Paulo Health Secretary Jean Gorinchteyn told CNN Brasil, adding that there was no documentation to suggest they had been vaccinated.

Following the Omicron confirmation, Sao Paulo state government said it would review a planned easing of rules around the use of masks.

Omicron was first identified officially in South Africa last week, but data now shows it was circulating before then and it 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 with 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.

The WHO said on Tuesday that blanket travel bans would not stop the new variant's spread but would place a "heavy burden" on lives and livelihoods.

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