Over 60 test positive after flying from South Africa to Amsterdam as fears rise over Omicron variant

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Passengers travelling from South Africa queue to be coronavirus disease (COVID-19) tested after being held on the tarmac at Schiphol Airport - REUTERS

Passengers travelling from South Africa queue to be coronavirus disease (COVID-19) tested after being held on the tarmac at Schiphol Airport – REUTERS

Dutch health authorities have said on Saturday that 61 passengers from two flights from South Africa tested positive for Covid-19 and the results were being examined for the new Omicron variant.

The people who tested positive are now being quarantined in a hotel near Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where the 600 people on board the two planes from Johannesburg spent hours waiting on Friday.

“We now know that 61 of the results were positive and 531 negative,” the Dutch Health Authority (GGD) said in a statement.

“The positive test results will be examined as soon as possible to determine whether this concerns the new worrisome variant, which has since been given the name Omicron variant.”

It comes as a German regional official said on Saturday that health authorities have identified the first suspected case in the country of the new variant, in a person who returned from South Africa.

“The Omicron variant has with strong likelihood already arrived in Germany,” Kai Klose, social affairs minister in the western state of Hesse, tweeted, referring to the strain first detected in southern Africa.

11:53 AM

Concerns trigger more travel curbs on southern Africa

Although epidemiologists say travel curbs may be too late to stop Omicron from circulating globally, many countries around the world – including the United States, Brazil, Canada and European Union nations – announced travel bans or restrictions on southern Africa on Friday.

On Saturday, Australia said it would ban non-citizens who have been in nine southern African countries from entering and will require supervised 14-day quarantines for Australian citizens and their dependents returning from there.

Japan said it would extend its tightened border controls to three more African countries after imposing curbs on travel from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Lesotho on Friday.

Sri Lanka, Thailand and Oman also announced travel curbs on southern African nations.

11:38 AM

South Africa ‘punished’ for detecting Omicron Covid variant

South Africa said Saturday it is being “punished” for detecting a new Covid-19 variant Omicron which the World Health Organization has termed a “variant of concern” and is more transmissible than the dominant Delta strain.

The decision by a number of countries around the world to ban flights from southern Africa following the discovery of the variant “is akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker,” the foreign affairs ministry said in a statement.

11:15 AM

Czechs report suspected case of Omicron variant of coronavirus

The Czech Republic is examining a suspected case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus detected in a person who spent time in Namibia, the National Institute of Public Health said on Saturday.

“A lab is checking a possible find of a positive specimen of the Omicron variant. We are awaiting confirmation or refutation of the case,” spokesperson Stepanka Cechova said in an emailed statement.

11:02 AM

Strain poses a ‘high to very high risk’ to Europe

EU health authorities have said the new strain poses a “high to very high risk” to the continent.

In the Netherlands all passengers who tested positive must stay in quarantine at the hotel for seven days if they show symptoms and for five days if they do not, the GGD said.

Passengers who tested negative, but who are remaining in the Netherlands, are expected to isolate at home.

“We understand that people are frustrated by this,” the statement added, “people have just made a long trip with the idea that they will shortly be home,” it said.

“Instead just after landing, they are confronted with a situation we have never before experienced in the Netherlands, namely that people have to be tested at Schiphol and are forced to wait until they get a result.”

Those who do not live in the Netherlands can “continue their journey”, it said.

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