Omicron variant detected in wastewater in Catalonia

Authorities believe Covid strain is already present, while first two cases could be confirmed on Friday

Catalan health minister Josep Maria Argimon in Parliament (by Guillem Roset)
Catalan health minister Josep Maria Argimon in Parliament (by Guillem Roset) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

December 1, 2021 02:04 PM

The Omicron Covid-19 variant is already in Catalonia. While no cases have been confirmed as of yet, its presence has been detected in wastewater.

Catalan health minister Josep Maria Argimon revealed this new development on Tuesday in Parliament.

The official assumes there are already some cases of the new strain, despite a lack of official confirmation.

Argimon explained on Monday that two passengers who had arrived at the Barcelona-El Prat airport from South Africa via Germany had tested positive for Covid-19 with rapid antigen tests and that samples had been sent to Bellvitge Hospital "for screening and subsequent sequencing," to determine whether they were cases of the Omicron variant – authorities find it likely, but the official results will be revealed on Friday.

According to him, the new strain will end up becoming the main one in Catalonia, as was the case with Delta did just under a year ago within just a few months.

At the moment, he said, health authorities are examining 20% of positive PCR tests to see whether Omicron is present. On Wednesday, public health secretary Carmen Cabezas added that the screening of cases also includes asking the individuals who tested positive whether they had recently traveled to countries where the new variant has been detected.

Vaccinated close contacts of possible Omicron cases will still have to quarantine

The health department has also stated that people who are considered to be close contacts of possible Covid-19 patients with the Omicron variant will have to quarantine even if they are fully vaccinated.

Potential Omicron cases include anyone traveling from southern Africa who has tested positive for Covid or anyone who has been found to have the variant in the screenings that are getting underway.

Vaccinated individuals who are a close contact of a positive case, if not affected by the new variant, do not have to quarantine.

Impact of Omicron on vaccines

Also on Wednesday, the head of the microbiology service at Barcelona's Vall d'Hebron hospital, Tomàs Pumarola, explained in a press conference that, at some point, reformulating the vaccine will be necessary, "but while we have a high protection rate like now, it is not necessary."

"If we see that the successive new variants make us lose protection, it will be time to do it."

According to him, the Omicron variant is closer to the Alpha one, first spotted in the UK, than to Delta, but it is too early to tell whether the vaccine needs changing.

At the moment, 75% of the Catalan population has been already fully vaccinated, while booster shots are already being administered to those above the age of 60, health workers and immunosuppressed people.