First two cases of Omicron variant case found in mainland France

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COVID-19 vaccination center in Nice

PARIS (Reuters) -France on Thursday reported its first two cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, as the government's top scientific adviser said it could become dominant in the country by the end of January.

The health body for the Ile de France region of greater Paris said in a statement an Omicron case had been found in a person who returned from Nigeria.

A second case was found in the Haut-Rhin region in eastern France in a person returning from South Africa, the local health body said. They were the first cases found in mainland France, after a case was found in the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion last month.

Jean-Francois Delfraissy told BFM television the "true enemy" for now was still Delta, spreading in a fifth wave.

"We should see a progressive rise of the Omicron variant, which will take over from Delta," possibly by the end of January, he said.

"Christmas is not at risk if the population and decision-makers are all very cautious," he said, reiterating that social distancing and a third, booster shot of vaccines were key weapons.

France recorded nearly 50,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases over 24 hours, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

There were 1,886 people in intensive care units with COVID-19 on Wednesday, a level Delfraissy said was not yet a peak, particularly when compared to 6,000-7000 at the height of the second wave in France last autumn.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Sudip Kar-Gupta, Myriam Rivet; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Nick Macfie and Susan Fenton)

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