COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID: 13 omicron cases in the Netherlands found from South Africa flights

Published : November 29, 2021 15:42 IST

The cases emerged among 61 people who tested positive for COVID after arriving in Amsterdam on a flight from South Africa. Photo: Pavlo Gonchar/Zumapress/picture alliance

Dutch health authorities have found 13 cases of the omicron variant among passengers arriving from South Africa.

The Dutch public health authority said on November 28 that 13 people in the Netherlands have so far tested positive for the new coronavirus variant. The detection comes as the Netherlands moved into a tighter lockdown announced last week. Bars, restaurants and nonessential stores, cinemas and theaters would be forced to shut from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.

There were 61 positive COVID cases on two separate flights from South Africa, which landed on November 26 at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, with 13 of them contracting the new variant. The people who tested positive are being kept in isolation at a hotel near the airport. "In our (virus) sequencing investigation, which is still ongoing, we have so far found 13 cases of the Omicron variant among the positive (passenger COVID-19) tests," the National Institute for Health (RIVM) said in a statement.

Tighter lockdown takes effect

The new COVID-19 restrictions came into force after a partial lockdown had no effect in reducing a spike in cases across the Netherlands. Dutch hospitals warned that intensive care units could be full up by the end of the week. They have cancelled nonessential sugery to free up beds for coronavirus patients. Authorities indicated they could even step up lockdown measures in the weeks before the Christmas festive season. Earlier on November 28, police in the city of Nijmegen arrested or turned away protesters planning to march against the COVID-19 restrictions, a week after a similar Rotterdam demonstration turned violent.

'Urgent request' to get tested

Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge made an "urgent request" to people returning from southern Africa to get tested "as soon as possible." "It is not unthinkable that there are more cases in the Netherlands," De Jonge told reporters. "We are concerned. What is important now is that we keep our finger on the pulse and keep up with the sequencing," he added.

More infectious than Delta

The Netherlands joins a growing list of countries that have begun detecting cases of the newly identified variant. First detected in southern Africa, omicron cases have now been found in Germany, the U.K., Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Hong Kong and Australia.

Omicron is causing alarm as it appears to be much more infectious than the Delta variant and it is not yet known how effective vaccines will be against it. Researchers have expressed particular concern over the new variant because it shows an extremely high number of mutations of the coronavirus. They have found 32 mutations in the spike protein. By comparison, Delta, which is considered highly infectious, shows eight mutations.

E.U.: 'Race against time'

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on November 28 the world was in a "race against time" to understand the new variant and, if required, modify vaccines to counter against the threat posed by omicron. "The scientists and manufacturers need two to three weeks to have a full picture about the quality of the mutations of this Omicron variant," she said. "We need to buy time," she said, urging people to vaccinate, wear masks and practice social distancing.

Von der Leyen also said that a contract struck in the summer by the E.U. with BioNTech-Pfizer for 1.8 billion vaccine doses included a clause in case of a strain that can evade vaccine immunity. The clause states "that if a variant turns into an escape variant... BioNTech-Pfizer is able to adapt its vaccine within 100 days," Von der Leyen confirmed.

jsi, jc/wmr (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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