Nigeria confirmed its first cases of the omicron coronavirus variant Wednesday, according to a statement from the country’s public health institute, including one case in a sample dating back to October, suggesting the variant had been circulating for weeks before being reported in South Africa last week.
The omicron variant of coronavirus was detected in three test samples taken from travellers, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said in a statement.
One case was detected in a sample taken from a traveller coming to Nigeria in October, according to Nigeria CDC director-general Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa, the Associated Press reports.
The NCDC did not provide any other details on the traveller and said the other two cases were from travellers arriving from South Africa last week.
The NCDC called on the country’s states for improved testing and urged the public to be on high alert.
Ghana, South Korea and Norway also reported their first omicron cases Wednesday.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, with 206 million people, and was the third country on the continent’s mainland to report the variant after South Africa and Botswana (Ghana has since reported cases of the variant). The discovery of omicron in samples dating back to October underscores how little is yet known about the new coronavirus variant after researchers in South Africa sounded the alarm last week.
Experts say it could be weeks before we know whether the variant—which has a high number of mutations—is more resistant to vaccines, more transmissible or causes different kinds of disease. It is not known whether omicron emerged in South Africa—which has an advanced genomic surveillance system—or was merely detected thereafter having emerged and spread from an area with poorer surveillance.
Despite this uncertainty, governments worldwide moved swiftly to close off travel to South Africa and the surrounding region, something officials and the World Health Organization have complained unfairly punishes the country for being transparent and alerting the world to the threat of the new variant.
Four fully-vaccinated people in southern Germany have tested positive for the omicron variant, officials said, three having returned from South Africa in late November (the fourth being a relative of one of the returnees). The country is currently fighting one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks and on Wednesday reported its highest number of deaths since mid-February.
By Robert Hart, Forbes Staff