Dutch health authorities announced on Tuesday that they found the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus in cases dating back as long as 11 days, indicating that it was already spreading in western Europe before the first cases were identified in southern Africa.
The RIVM health institute said it found Omicron in samples dating from November 19 and 23.
Those findings predate the positive cases found among passengers who came from South Africa last Friday and were tested at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. The RIVM said:
It is not yet clear whether the people concerned [in the earlier cases] have also been to southern Africa.
RIVM added that the individuals had been informed of their Omicron infections and that local health services had started contact tracing.
The institute added that it would re-examine more samples from previous COVID test results.
Belgium and Germany have also said that sample tests confirm the variant was in those countries before South African health officials alerted the world on November 24 of its existence.
Omicron has now spread to about 20 other countries, and many nations have imposed travel restrictions on passengers from southern African nations.
This is amid fears that it could be significantly easier to pass from person to person, and that it could have at least some resistance to current treatments and vaccines.
Meanwhile, criticism is growing over the travel restrictions on passengers from Southern African countries.