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A sign promoting vaccinations in Melbourne, Australia. AAP/PA Images
New variant

Netherlands confirms 13 Omicron cases among passengers on flights

The cases emerged from 61 positive cases in passengers on planes from South Africa to Amsterdam.

LAST UPDATE | 28 Nov 2021

THE DUTCH PUBLIC health authority has confirmed that 13 people who arrived in the Netherlands on flights from South Africa on Friday have so far tested positive for the new Omicron coronavirus variant.

The 61 people who tested positive for the virus on Friday after arriving on the last two flights to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport before a flight ban was put in place were immediately put into isolation while sequencing was carried out to establish if they had the new variant.

The public health institute said in a statement that testing was continuing on the samples.

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.

Earlier, Australian officials confirmed that two overseas travellers arriving in Sydney tested positive for the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The two passengers were among a group of 14 who arrived in Australia from southern Africa yesterday. Both were asymptomatic and vaccinated against Covid-19. The remaining 12 have been placed in quarantine.

Neighbouring New Zealand announced it is restricting travel from nine southern African countries because of the threat posed by the variant, and Japan widened its border controls to include more countries from the region.

Other restrictions

Tourist-dependent Thailand, which only recently began loosening its tight border restrictions to leisure travellers from certain countries, announced a ban of its own on visitors from eight African counties.

Similar restrictions took effect in the business hub of Singapore, which is barring entry and transit to anyone with a recent history of travel to seven southern African nations.

Sri Lanka banned disembarkation of passengers arriving from six African countries due to the detection of the Omicron variant, as did the Maldives.

Israel went further, barring entry to all foreign nationals, mandating quarantine for all Israelis arriving from abroad and red-listing travel to 50 African countries.

It also approved use of the Shin Bet internal security agency’s controversial phone monitoring technology to perform contact tracing of individuals confirmed with the new variant.

The tighter restrictions reflect steps rapidly taken by countries around the world to limit the spread of the Omicron variant just days after it was identified by researchers in South Africa.

The “act first, ask questions later” approach reflects growing alarm about the emergence of a potentially more contagious variant nearly two years into the pandemic. 

While much remains to be learned about the new variant, researchers are concerned that it may be more resistant to the protection provided by vaccines and that it could be more transmissible than other strains. 

Cases involving the Omicron variant have already been confirmed around the world, with the UK, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong all reporting cases in recent days.

Australia quarantine

In Australia, the New South Wales health department said the infected travellers arrived from one of nine African countries that are now required to quarantine in a hotel upon arrival in Sydney – South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini, Malawi and the Seychelles.

New Zealand’s Covid-19 Response Minister, Chris Hipkins, said the island nation is taking a precautionary approach.

From late tonight, only New Zealand citizens from nine African countries will be allowed entry, and they will be required to spend two weeks in a quarantine hotel run by the military.

Hipkins said officials are confident the variant has not entered New Zealand and they are well placed to keep it out.

Many countries have slapped restrictions on various southern African countries over the past couple of days, including Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Iran, and the US, in response to warnings over the transmissibility of the new variant.

This goes against the advice of the World Health Organization, which has warned against any overreaction before the variant has been thoroughly studied.

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