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Authorities: Omicron was in Netherlands days earlier

BRUSSELS (AP) - The omicron variant was already in the Netherlands when South Africa alerted the World Health Organization about it last week, Dutch health authorities said Tuesday, adding to fear and confusion over the new version of the coronavirus in a weary world hoping it had left the worst of the pandemic behind.

The Netherlands’ RIVM health institute found omicron in samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23.

The WHO said South Africa first reported the variant to the U.N. healthy agency on Nov. 24.

It remains unclear where or when the variant first emerged - but that hasn’t stopped wary nations from rushing to impose travel restrictions, especially on visitors coming from southern Africa. Those moves have been criticized by South Africa and the WHO has urged against them, noting their limited effect.

Much is still not known about the variant - though the WHO warned that the global risk from the variant is “very high” and early evidence suggests it could be more contagious.

The Dutch announcement Tuesday further muddies the timeline on when the new variant actually emerged. Previously, the Dutch had said they found the variant among passengers who came from South Africa on Friday - but these new cases predate that.

Authorities in the eastern German city of Leipzig, meanwhile, said Tuesday they had confirmed an infection with the omicron variant in a 39-year-old man who had neither been abroad nor had contact with anyone who had been, news agency dpa reported.

Meanwhile, Japan and France announced their first cases of the new variant on Tuesday.

The arrival lobby of the international terminal is deserted at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Japan, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Japan confirmed on Tuesday its first case of the new omicron coronavirus variant, a visitor who recently arrived from Namibia, an official said. Japan announced Monday it will suspend entry of all foreign visitors from around the world as a new coronavirus variant spreads (Shinji Kita/Kyodo News via AP)
A sign in the pedestrian zone indicates that masks are mandatory in Cologne, Germany Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. In North Rhine-Westphalia, protective measures are to be tightened this week in view of the intensified Corona situation. (Oliver Berg/dpa via AP)
People wear face mask to protect against the coronavirus at the public transport station Friedrichstrasse in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. According to local authorities wearing face masks mandatory in public transport and passengers need to be vaccinated, recovered or tested negative of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
A commuter looks out from a bus window, wearing a face mask to help combat the coronavirus in London, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. The emergence of the new COVID-19 omicron variant and the world's attempts to keep it at bay are reminders of what scientists have warned for months: The coronavirus will thrive as long as vast parts of the world lack vaccines. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)