Scores of people on two different flights from South Africa to the Netherlands tested positive for COVID-19, prompting a rush to determine whether they are infected with the new omicron coronavirus variant.
A total of 600 passengers arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport Friday morning from South Africa, according to Reuters. They were all separated from those traveling from other nations in bid to prevent the spread of the latest mutated strand of coronavirus. Out of all the morning arrivals, 61 people tested positive for the illness and have been required to quarantine at a hotel near the airport.
Those who received a negative test were allowed to continue on their journeys, but asked to quarantine upon arriving home.
According to a Dutch health ministry spokesperson, passengers’ health information, specifically whether any of them were infected with the new omicron variant, will remain private until later in the day.
South Africa’s health minister on Thursday announced the discovery of the variant, which was almost immediately declared it a “variant of concern.” It was designated a name from the Greek alphabet during an emergency meeting on Friday, the first indication experts believe it be a legitimate threat.
Since then, many nations have moved to restrict travel from southern Africa, including the Netherlands. The new rules however, were announced after the pair of KLM flights already departed from Cape Town and Johannesburg.
About a half-hour before the aircrafts were scheduled to land, health officials were dispatched to the airport to conduct the tests there.
According to rules on the website for KLM, the Dutch arm of Air France, it requires passengers have a negative COVID-19 test 24 hours prior to the flight, though they do not need to show proof of vaccination.
The Dutch government separately on Friday announced the nighttime closure of bars, restaurants and most stores as it tries to slow a record-breaking surge of COVID-19 cases that is overwhelming health care system.
“The number of coronavirus infections has never been as high as in the past week,” the government said on Friday, adding that the caseload was at risk of overwhelming hospitals in the country.
Last week, almost 154,000 people in the Netherlands tested positive, a 39% increase from the week prior.