Dutch officials said Tuesday that they detected the omicron variant in samples collected almost two weeks ago, days earlier than the arrival of two flights from South Africa carrying infected passengers.

Iran PressEurope: This is yet another indication that the potentially more contagious variant was already in the European Union when countries banned air travel from southern African countries to stop omicron’s spread.

So far, 44 cases of the omicron variant have been reported in 11 countries in Europe, the EU’s public health body said Tuesday.

Austria, Germany, Portugal, and the Netherlands are among the countries where cases of the new variant have been confirmed.

“We have found the Omicron coronavirus variant in two test samples that were taken on Nov. 19 and Nov. 23,” the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) said in a statement. “It is not clear yet whether these people have visited Southern Africa.”

Late Thursday, South Africa’s top health officials announced that they had discovered a potentially more contagious variant of the coronavirus, an announcement that sent the world into panic and stock markets tumbling.

The next day, two planes carrying about 600 passengers from South Africa landed in the Netherlands with 61 people testing positive for the virus, 14 of whom had the omicron variant.

Immediately, all 27 EU nations and Britain, the United States, and others imposed restrictions on travelers from southern African countries. South African leaders decried this action as unnecessary and punitive, arguing that South Africa’s detecting the variant first does not mean it originated in that country.

The news from the Netherlands changes the timeline for the variant’s arrival in that country and possibly elsewhere in Europe. By the time Dutch authorities were sounding the alarm about a flight from South Africa on Nov. 26, samples of the variant had been collected but not yet identified in Britain, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands.

The earliest samples identified so far still come from southern Africa. The first known case of the variant dates to Nov. 9 and involves a 34-year-old man near Johannesburg. And on Nov. 11, samples exhibiting the variant were collected in Botswana.

Experts caution, though, that the variant could have come from elsewhere. Genetic sequencing labs in many countries are looking back at samples collected over the past month. The revised timeline underscores warnings from public health experts who had said that travel bans had come too late to be effective.