Dutch: Some of 61 COVID-19 cases from South Africa flights are new variant


AMSTERDAM – Dutch health officials said on Saturday they had detected 61 cases of COVID-19 among people who flew from South Africa on Friday and believe at least some infections are due to the new variant Omicron.

The cases were discovered among 624 passengers who arrived at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol on two flights on Friday before the Dutch government restricted air traffic from southern Africa over concerns over the variant.

“In a number of people tested, the Omicron variant is presumed to have been found,” the Netherlands Institute of Health (RIVM) said in a statement. A spokesperson for RIVM said it was “almost certain” the cases were of the new variant, but more testing was needed to be absolutely sure.

The RIVM wouldn’t say how many cases it suspects to be of the Omicron variant.

Passengers on Friday’s flights were separated from other travelers and those who tested positive are now isolated in a hotel near the airport.

A spokesperson for KLM, the Dutch branch of Air France, said passengers on the flight had either tested negative or shown proof of vaccination before boarding planes in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

“It goes too far to say that we are surprised” by the high number of cases, said a spokesperson for KLM. “But we don’t have an explanation.”

The spokesperson said it was possible that many positive cases were among people vaccinated, or that an unusual number of people developed infections after testing negative.

Dutch health authorities have been seeking to contact some 5,000 other passengers from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia or Zimbabwe since Monday to urge them to take a COVID-19 test as soon as possible.

‘REALLY WEIRD’

Paula Zimmerman, a Dutch photographer who returned from a family visit to South Africa on Friday morning, said the situation for plane passengers was chaotic as they waited on the tarmac and in the terminal for hours.

Zimmerman learned she tested negative at 4 a.m., nearly 6 p.m. after landing in Amsterdam. But then she found out that she was standing right next to a man who found out he had tested positive.

“It was really weird. There was no coordination. There were too few people and there was really no one taking control.”

After spending hours on a flight that likely had many infected passengers, Zimmerman was anxious for days to come, she said.

“I was told that they expected a lot more people to test positive after five days. It’s a little scary, the thought that you’ve been on a plane with a lot of people testing positive. “

Dutch citizens are still allowed to return home from southern Africa, while EU citizens are allowed to enter in transit to their country of origin.

Medical personnel, airline crews and people with urgent needs are also still allowed to travel. KLM will continue flights to the region, but all travelers must now test negative before departure and then quarantined for at least five days upon arrival in the Netherlands.

The new variant has been detected just as many European countries are grappling with an increase in coronavirus cases.

The Dutch government on Friday announced the night-time closure of bars, restaurants and most stores as it tried to curb a record spate of COVID-19 cases that overwhelmed its healthcare system.

(Reporting by Toby Sterling, Bart Meijer and Johnny Cotton editing by Frances Kerry and Mark Potter)


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