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Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC
Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC

A senior Botswana health official said on Tuesday that 16 of the total 19 cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant detected in the country were asymptomatic, and it was “unfair” to treat the country as ground zero of the new variant.

Pamela Smith-Lawrence, acting director of health in the ministry of health and wellness, told Reuters in an interview that the majority of the 19 people who were found to be infected with the new Omicron variant had already tested negative.

While 16 people were asymptomatic, the remaining three had “very, very mild” symptoms.

On Friday, Botswana said the country was investigating certain mutations of the coronavirus that were found in four foreign nationals who were in the country on a diplomatic mission. Since then, the country has reported another 15 cases of the new variant, taking the total number to 19.

While it is still not established where Omicron first emerged, on November 25, SA, followed by Botswana a day later, announced it had detected a new variant whose mutations were different from the dominant Delta Covid-19 variant.

This prompted immediate air travel curbs on southern African countries from several European and Asian countries, a decision which has been criticised by both SA and Botswana.

The four foreign nationals, aged between 30 years and 65 years who had come to Botswana on November 7, tested positive on November 11 and on further investigation their samples showed new mutations on November 22, said Smith-Lawrence. She added that the government uploaded the data on the international database the next day.

“Unfortunately ... finger now points to Botswana to say it originated in Botswana, or it is a Botswana variant, which I think is quite unfair and unnecessary at this time,” she said, adding that 14 of the 19 people so far detected with the variant were foreign nationals.

She declined to name the nationalities of the people or from where they had flown.

She said within the next two to three weeks the government would be in a position to give more clarity on whether Omicron was more virulent than its predecessors. 

Reuters

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