Dutch authorities have announced that 13 people tested positive for the Omicron coronavirus variant after they flew to the Netherlands from South Africa.
Officials previously said that 61 people who arrived in the country on Friday had tested positive for Covid-19 and were in isolation.
Now further tests have shown that over a dozen of them had the new variant, which was formally designated ‘of concern’ last week.
The public health institute said in a statement that testing was continuing on the samples, so the number may still rise.
Most of the 61 people who tested positive were put into isolation at a hotel near the airport, while a small number were allowed to sit out their quarantine at home under strict conditions
They arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as countries around the world, including the UK, imposed restrictions on flights from many countries in southern Africa.
Their two planes, from Johannesburg and Cape Town, landed shortly after the Dutch government also imposed temporary a ban on flights.
Officials in the Netherlands are now working to trace around 5,000 people who have arrived from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe since Monday.
The country has reimposed a partial lockdown, requiring hospitality venues such as bars and restaurants to close from 5pm. People have been asked to work from home and a maximum of four guests aged over 13 are allowed to visit people’s homes.
It comes as more than 22,000 new daily cases were reported on Friday.
Although Omicron was only reported to the World Health Organisation four days ago, on November 24, it has quickly sparked concern that it is more transmissible and may be able to evade vaccines more effectively than we have seen so far.
The variant’s swift spread among young people in South Africa has alarmed health professionals.
In just two weeks, it has turned a period of low transmission in the country into one of rapid growth.
The Kennermerland local health authority in the Netherlands, which is responsible for the testing and isolation operation, said in an update yesterday that the people who tested positive must quarantine for seven days if they have symptoms and five days if they are symptom-free.
The 539 passengers who tested negative were allowed to return home or continue their journeys to other countries.
Biostatistician Prof Sheila Bird, of the University of Cambridge, said that around 2% of the 600 passengers who came from South Africa on Friday test positive for coronvirus, and of them, around 21% had the new variant.
‘These results are alerting but let me outline some important caveats,’ she said.
‘First, there may be household-clusters among the 13 Omicron positives or clustering may have been induced by where passengers were seated on the flight from South Africa.
‘Secondly, the immunisation status of the passengers on the flight from South Africa to The Netherlands may be less favourable than applies in Europe, and in the UK in particular.
‘Third is the age-distribution of the passengers tested; of all PCR-positives; and the ages specifically of those who were Omicron-positives . Any/all of these age-distributions may be different from the age-distribution of the general population in South Africa, let alone of the UK.
‘Hence, alert rather than alarm until more is known about the household ties, seating ties, vaccination-status and age-distribution of the 13 Omicron positives versus the 48 persons who were PCR-positive but not Omicron-positive.
‘Relevant data shall accumulate fast with international co-operation. Meantime, both The Netherlands and South Africa deserve our thanks for prompt testing, diagnosis and dissemination of crucial information about Omicron.’
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