At least 13 people who arrived in the Netherlands on two flights from South Africa on Friday were infected with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, and more cases will most likely be found, Dutch health officials said on Sunday.
Coen Berends, a spokesman for the Dutch public health institute that tracks the virus, added that the Omicron variant might already have been brought to the country by other recent travelers.
“The most important thing is that we know that this variant is in the Netherlands,” Mr. Berends said.
On Friday, health officials tested about 600 passengers who arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on two flights and found 61 to be positive for the coronavirus. Those who tested negative were allowed to quarantine at home or continue their journeys. Those who tested positive were ordered to isolate at home or in designated hotels and will be fined if they violate the measures, Mr. de Jonge said.
The Netherlands joined other Western countries in instituting travel rules, limiting travel from southern Africa to European Union citizens only. But in an acknowledgment that the new variant may have arrived in the country earlier, the government has implored recent travelers from southern Africa to get tested.
The two flights, from Johannesburg and Cape Town, landed within about a half an hour of one another before noon local time on Friday. Health officials took the passengers to a deserted departure bay to be tested, a process that took several hours as they waited together in close quarters, many of them unmasked, said Stephanie Nolen, a global health reporter for The New York Times who was on one of the flights.
In total, the passengers, negative and positive, spent about 30 hours together in the plane and in poorly ventilated rooms. While the infected passengers were told to isolate, those who tested negative were allowed to fly onward and “scattered to the world” despite their exposure, Ms. Nolen said.
Cases have been rising quickly in the Netherlands, which recently announced a lockdown that starts at 5 p.m. and other measures to prevent spread of the virus.