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Dutch say Omicron variant was already circulating

By AFP
30 November 2021   |   6:41 pm
Dutch health authorities said Tuesday that the Omicron variant was present in the Netherlands earlier than previously thought before South Africa had first reported the new strain of Covid-19.

Dutch health authorities said Tuesday that the Omicron variant was present in the Netherlands earlier than previously thought before South Africa had first reported the new strain of Covid-19.

The variant was found in two test samples from November 19 and 23, with one having no travel history, suggesting that the variant is already circulating in the Netherlands, the RIVM public health institute said.

The first Omicron cases in the Netherlands were previously believed to have been the cluster of 14 among passengers on two flights from South Africa that arrived in Amsterdam on Friday.

The Netherlands now joins other European countries including Belgium and Germany that have reported cases of the new strain before it was officially notified by South Africa to the World Health Organization on November 24.

“We found two additional cases of Omicron variant which have been sampled on the 19th and 23rd of November,” RIVM infectious diseases chief Aura Timen told AFP.

“So that points at the presence already of this variant in the Netherlands.”

Dutch authorities had informed the two new cases and carried out contact tracing, the RIVM said.

“One of those two people had no travel history, the other had recently been to the south of Africa,” an RIVM spokesman told AFP.

The airline passengers with Omicron, who were among 61 travellers on the two KLM flights from South Africa that tested positive for Covid, are currently in quarantine.

With 16 confirmed cases the Netherlands has one of the highest numbers in Europe of the new strain.

But the Dutch situation was likely to be repeated in other countries when they retest samples for Omicron cases, the public health institute’s Timen said.

‘Spread all over the world‘ –
“I don’t think that we are in an exceptional situation or exceptional risk at this point,” Timen said.

“The moment a new variant emerges and is announced, probably the variant is already spread all over the world.”

Belgium, the first European country to report the presence of the new variant, has said that a case tested positive on November 22, and had developed symptoms 11 days after travelling to Egypt via Turkey.

Germany has meanwhile said that a person who tested positive for the variant had arrived at Frankfurt international airport on November 21.

The Omicron cases come as the Netherlands is under a virtual night-time lockdown imposed by the government after Covid cases surged to record levels.

But last week the number of new cases had finally “stabilised”, rising by just one percent to 155,152, compared to a leap of 39 percent the week before, the RIVM said.

Deaths last week rose to 367, compared to 265 the week before.

New hospital admissions also stabilised at 1,996 last week but the number of people admitted to intensive care continued to rise, up 22 percent to 367.

Meanwhile, Dutch prosecutors said they were looking at whether the correct procedures were followed in the case of a couple who fled the hotel where most of the South Africa cases were being quarantined.

Carolina Pimenta and Andres Sanz, who was caught on a plane that was about to take off for Spain on Sunday, have now been moved to “forced isolation” in a hospital tuberculosis ward.

Pimenta, who tested positive for Covid, has insisted that a Dutch official told them they could leave and said that they had been “treated like dogs” by Dutch authorities.

“The Public Prosecution Service Northern Netherlands is currently examining the procedure that was followed prior to the placement of two people in forced isolation and quarantine,” prosecutors said in a statement.