Last Friday, just a day after South African scientists first announced the discovery of the Omicron variant, Europe reported its first case: a new variant of the coronavirus was in Belgium. Before the end of the weekend, cases of the disease were identified in Australia, the UK, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Israel, Italy and other countries.
But in the United States, scientists continued to search.
“If we start to see a variant emerge in many countries around the world, usually my intuition tells me it’s already here,” said Taj Azarian, a genomic epidemiologist at the University of Central Florida.
On Wednesday, US officials announced that scientists had found it – in a California patient who recently returned from South Africa. By that time, Canada had already identified six cases; Britain has found more than a dozen.
The United States identified a second case in Minnesota on Thursday, and others are almost certainly hiding, scientists say. So why haven’t we found them yet?
Several factors may be involved, including travel patterns and strict entry requirements, that may have delayed the option’s appearance in the United States. But experts believe blind spots and delays in the country’s genomic surveillance system could also be factors. As many laboratories are now conducting targeted search for a variant, the rate of detection can increase rapidly.