So far, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) has confirmed 13 cases of the Omicron variant in the Netherlands. All cases are amongst passengers who arrived at Schiphol Airport on Friday, November 26.
13 passengers from South Africa test positive for Omicron
Following the emergence of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19, which has already been labelled a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday, Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge announced a ban on all flights from a number of southern African countries.
The last two flights arriving in the Netherlands from South Africa landed at Schiphol Aiport on Friday morning. All 624 passengers on board were taken for immediate testing, with 61 testing positive for COVID-19. Over the weekend, the RIVM reported that, of the 61 positive tests, at least 13 passengers were infected with the Omicron variant.
Travellers who tested negative for the virus were allowed to leave the airport, as were those who tested positive but live alone and travelled to the airport via car. All were told they had to quarantine at home for at least five days. Meanwhile, all other passengers who tested positive were transferred to a guarded isolation hotel near the airport will be required to quarantine for five or seven days, depending on whether they are showing symptoms.
On Sunday, it was reported that a couple who had arrived from South Africa on Friday, and were quarantined in a hotel in Badhoevedorp, had managed to successfully flee the hotel and board a flight before being arrested by the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee. While breaking Dutch quarantine rules typically leads to a fine of 339 euros, the couple could now face up to four years in prison.
Dutch government says no further travel rules are on the way
The current travel rules state that all travellers over the age of 13 from South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe with a Dutch passport are still allowed to enter the Netherlands, but must present a negative PCR test (max. 24 hours old) and quarantine for at least five days upon arrival. Anyone who arrived in the Netherlands from one of the above-mentioned countries on or after November 22 has also been asked to get tested for coronavirus.
Since the flight ban came into effect on Friday afternoon, a testing centre has been set up at Schiphol Airport for all travellers from southern Africa, so they can be tested for COVID-19 immediately upon arrival before awaiting their results at home in quarantine. The testing centre will be in operation from December 4.
Various medical experts and doctors are calling for even stricter entry requirements in order to prevent the spread of Omicron in the Netherlands. Virologist Marc Van Ranst has argued that all travellers arriving in the Netherlands – regardless of their vaccination status or country of origin – should be required to present a negative PCR test: “If you want to be more sure that you don’t have any infections on board, you should have everyone do a PCR test,” he told NOS.
But for now, the Dutch government has said no further travel restrictions are on the way. “We are keeping a close eye on everything and the policy may change in the future,” the Ministry of Health has said.