The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) said in a statement that the variant had been detected by sequencing 61 positive Covid-19 samples obtained at the airport on Friday.
The institute added that the sequencing work was “not quite complete” and that it is “possible that the new variant will be found in more test samples”. Those who tested positive were sent to isolation, authorities said.
The Omicron variant was first identified by scientists in South Africa, who raised the alarm on Thursday about the unusually high number of mutations. Since then, at least a dozen other cases of the new strain have been confirmed, while several other suspected cases have been reported.
Except in South Africa, the variant has been found in Botswana, Belgium, Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark, United Kingdom, Germany, Israel, Italy, Czech Republic and Hong Kong.
Biostatistician Professor Sheila Bird said the result from Amsterdam – where about 600 passengers from two flights were tested and 61 came back positive, with at least 13 infected with the Omicron variant – was worrying.
However, she said more data was needed. “There could be clusters of households among the 13 Omicron positives or clustering could have been caused by where passengers were on the flight from South Africa,” she told the Science Media Centre, adding that the vaccination status and age distribution of those infected also will need to be considered before conclusions are drawn about the variant.
She said the situation should be viewed with “alert rather than alarm until more is known”.
Variant of care
The World Health Organization (WHO) called the Omicron variant, originally called B.1.1.529, a “variant of concern.” The WHO said on Friday early evidence suggests the Omicron variant, first identified in South Africa, could pose an increased risk of reinfection and said some of the mutations detected on the variant were of concern.
But the WHO stressed that more research is needed to determine whether the variant is more contagious, whether it causes more serious disease and whether it can evade vaccines.
“This variant has a large number of mutations and some of these mutations have some worrying features,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical leader for Covid-19, said in a statement on Friday.
“At the moment there are many studies underway … so far there is little information, but those studies are ongoing, so we need researchers who have the time to conduct them and WHO will inform the public.” , inform our partners and our member states as soon as possible because we have more information,” she added.
Travel bans and new quarantine requirements
The discovery of the variant and its rapid spread around the world is an inconvenient reminder that the pandemic is far from over.
South Africa and some of the other countries affected by the travel bans were pushed against them. The South African Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation said the country is being punished for its transparency.
“Excellent science should be applauded, not punished. The global community needs cooperation and partnerships in managing the Covid-19 pandemic,” the ministry said in a statement.
“A combination of South Africa’s capacity to test and its ramped-up vaccination program, backed by a world-class scientific community, should provide our global partners with the comfort that we are doing as well as they are in managing the pandemic. follows and enforces globally recognized Covid-19 health protocols for travel.Infected persons are not allowed to leave the country,” it added.
Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera also criticized the travel bans, saying they were “undesirable”. “Covid measures should be based on science, not afrophobia,” he said on his official Facebook page.
Many experts said South African scientists earned credit for their ability to quickly identify the risks of the new variant.
The move to impose a ban has also sparked criticism from the WHO. “We’ve seen in the past when there’s some kind of variation mentioned and everyone is closing borders and restricting travel. It’s really important that we stay open and stay focused,” Dr. Michael, head of the WHO for emergencies, Ryan said on Saturday.
“South Africa has very, very good genomic sequencing capability and capability…certainly South Africa and other countries should not be stigmatized for reporting it and doing the right thing,” Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, CNN told CNN in a telephone interview.
However, Head said travel bans, if used correctly, could play a role in controlling the outbreak.
“It’s a difficult scenario. It could buy you some time. So if countries impose a ban and use that time, which at this point will be a few weeks, to increase the pace of the vaccination rollout to ensure that new antiviral drugs are available in the country to increase testing, genomic surveillance in airports, things like that, that’s something you can do usefully with a travel ban,” he said.
“If you just introduce a travel ban and say ‘good job done’, that’s not good for anyone. And if you punish countries for reporting new variants, as it were, we really have to try to support them too, or it is infrastructure or funding or vaccine doses, whichever is appropriate.”
Larry Madowo of CNN in Paris reported.