Omicron variant was detected in the Netherlands before South Africa flights

ZWOLLE, THE NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 28: The view of the deserted streets and bridge at the Thorbeckegracht in the city center of Zwolle during the start of the evening lockdown after the Dutch government announced new measures to put a halt to the rapid spread of the Corona Covid-19 virus in The Netherlands on November 28, 2021 in Zwolle, Netherlands. The number of infected people has risen dramatically over the last weeks, so the Dutch government has put a partially lockdown in effect and has advised citizens to stay at home if you have a cold, a cough, a sore throat or a fever; avoid contact with others (social distancing) and people throughout the Netherlands are encouraged to work from home. (Photo by Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images)
The view of the deserted streets and bridge at the Thorbeckegracht in the city center of Zwolle during the start of the evening lockdown after the Dutch government announced new measures to put a halt to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus in The Netherlands on November 28, 2021, in Zwolle, Netherlands. /Getty Images

The COVID-19 Omicron variant was detected in the Netherlands before two flights arrived from South Africa last week carrying the virus, Dutch health officials said on Tuesday.

At least 14 people on flights from Johannesburg and Capetown arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport on November 26 carrying the new variant, the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) said.

“We have found the Omicron coronavirus variant in two test samples that were taken on November 19 and November 23,” the RIVM said. “It is not clear yet whether these people have visited Southern Africa.”

The discovery of Omicron has sparked worries around the world that it could resist vaccinations and prolong the nearly two-year-old COVID-19 pandemic.

Some 61 out of the more than 600 passengers on the South Africa flights tested positive for COVID-19 and went into quarantine after arriving last Friday.

Dutch authorities are also seeking to contact and test some 5,000 other passengers who have traveled from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia or Zimbabwe.

In the Netherlands, tougher COVID-19 measures went into effect on Sunday to curb record daily infection rates of more than 20,000 and ease pressure on hospitals.