France’s health minister said on Sunday that the omicron COVID-19 variant is likely circulating in the nation, given that it has already been detected in several other European countries.
"Once the variant is circulating in England, in Italy, in Belgium, it is probable that there are already cases in circulation here. We will identify them and ... we will slow down its spread as much as possible,” Olivier Veran said to journalists at a Paris vaccination center, according to Reuters.
Veran noted that there had been no official identification yet, but that “it’s a matter of hours.”
Agence France-Presse reported that the ministry recommended that health professionals and others isolate people, regardless of their vaccination status, if they are suspected of or had a confirmed case of the omicron variant, Reuters noted.
The new guidance comes as France is already seeing a surge of new COVID-19 cases. On Friday, more than 33,000 new cases were reported and over 32,000 were recorded the day prior, per data from the World Health Organization. Cases were in the thousands in October and the beginning of November in France, comparatively.
Countries are now rushing to change travel restrictions and determining possible new health guidance in light of a newly detected variant, which WHO last week called a “variant of concern.”
Since it was first detected in South Africa, countries like the United Kingdom and United States have instituted border restrictions to a handful of countries in southern Africa while Israel has completely closed its borders to all foreign travelers.
However, some health officials have blasted countries for instituting those travel restrictions so quickly as scientists are still learning more about the omicron variant.