South African Student Tested Positive for Omicron in Malaysia Before WHO Alerted to Variant

On Friday officials from Malaysia reported a student from South Africa tested positive for the new Omicron variant back in November before the World Health Organization alerted the world to the new variant.

The Associated Press reported that a 19-year-old female visited her family in South Africa. She then flew from South Korea and arrived in Malaysia on November 19 where she tested positive for COVID the following day, according to Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.

Khairy said that South Africa had not yet reported its first Omicron infection to the WHO when the student was already in Malaysia.

The WHO said the variant is concerning based on the several mutations it has and how it spreads easily. They announced on Monday that the global risk for the new variant is "very high," but much is still unknown, including to what degree it makes people ill and if the vaccines are effective against it.

The Omicron variant is spreading across the world, and countries announced new or re-imposed restrictions with the new variant, the AP reported.

South Korean officials confirmed on Wednesday that six cases of the Omicron variant were connected to passengers on a flight from Nigeria. The government tightened its borders, required new quarantine restrictions, and banned flights from some places in Africa.

Countries in Europe, South America, North America and others started to report their first cases of the Omicron variant, the AP reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccines, Omicron
A student in Malaysia is confirmed to have contracted the Omicron variant before the WHO announced the existence of the variant to the world. Above, Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines sit ready for use at a Dallas County Health and Human Services drive up vaccine site in Mesquite, Texas, November 30, 2021. LM Otero, File/AP Photo

Following the discovery of the omicron strain, the ministry conducted genomic tests on 74 positive samples at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport between November 11 and 28 to detect the variant, Khairy said. Tests confirmed Thursday the student, who has since been released from a 10-day quarantine, had the omicron strain, Khairy said.

"What is important is the individual fully complied with home quarantine... is fully vaccinated and was asymptomatic. We have done both automated and manual contact tracing and so far this case is contained," Khairy tweeted.

After the student received her covid test, she was then bussed to her university lodging in northern Perak state with four others and placed under quarantine, he said.

Results the next day confirmed the student was positive for COVID-19, he said. The bus driver and four others in the vehicle tested negative and were all quarantined, Khairy added.

Malaysia, like many other countries, has tightened restrictions following the discovery of the new variant. It has banned visitors from eight African nations and requires travelers flying in from high-risk countries to wear a digital tracker device throughout their quarantine.

Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart vaccines.

COVID-19 Testing, Airport, Omicron
The Biden administration is planning to announce tighter restrictions for travelers flying into the United States, including requiring a negative test for COVID-19 one day ahead of travel, in response to the new Omicron variant. Above, a sign promotes a COVID-19 testing location located inside the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on December 01, 2021, in Los Angeles, California. Mario Tama/Getty Images