PRETORIA, December 3. /TASS/. The first people in the world who tested positive for the Omicron strain of coronavirus were four diplomats arriving in Botswana, including from Europe, Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi said.
"The diplomats came [to Botswana] from a number of countries, and they passed through a number of countries to get to Botswana," Reuters cites the president as saying. "Some had been to Europe and some had been elsewhere."
Masisi declined to disclose their nationalities, or the diplomats’ countries of origin. Nevertheless, he didn’t rule out that the Omicron strain could have been imported to the republic from countries that are now imposing a ban on air traffic with southern African states.
South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla stated that the new variant was first discovered in Botswana, but stated that "no one really knows where this variant originated from."
On November 26, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated B.1.1.529 as a "Variant of Concern" and assigned it the Greek letter Omicron. It also said that the new variant has "a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning." According to experts, several mutations in the virus’ S-protein are potentially capable of hampering the neutralization of the pathogen by antibodies and hence reduce the efficacy of the current vaccines. The new variant potentially may also be more transmittable than other variants. To date, the Omicron strain has been registered in almost 30 countries worldwide. The largest number of people infected with the new COVID-19 variant is now in South Africa.