Live updates: follow the latest news on Covid-19 variant Omicron
Researchers at the IHU Méditerranée Infection in Marseille posted their as yet not peer reviewed findings on December 29, on the website medRxiv. They detailed 12 infections in the same geographical area of south-eastern France from the variant tentatively identified as B.1.640.2.
The IHU reported the discovery of the variant on December 9, but news of B.1.640.2 has only appeared to spread online in recent days.
A website called Thailand Medical had claimed that there had been 952 cases of B.1.640.2 as of January 1, without offering verifiable evidence.
According to Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London, the discovery of B.1.640.2 predates that of the Omicron variant by several weeks. He said the first published report on B.1.640.2 by researchers was on November 4.
“This virus has had a decent chance to cause trouble but never really materialised (as far as we can tell at least...)”, Dr Peacock wrote on Twitter.
The rapid spread of Omicron around the world has seen countries reintroduce or harden restrictions in a bid to counter its movement.
Professor Francois Balloux, director of University College London’s Genetics Institute, also urged caution. “Please relax for now,” he said.