Saturday 28 May 2022

The Netherlands halts flights from southern Africa amid new variant fears

No flights from southern Africa. Photo: Brandon Hartley

The Netherlands has brought in a ban on flights landing from southern Africa in an effort to keep out a new, potentially more harmful, variant of coronavirus.

The ban comes into effect from midday, ministers decided on Friday morning.

In addition, the southern African countries will be added to the list of countries considered to be ‘very high risk’, which means people will have to go into quarantine and have two negative coronavirus tests.

Health minister Hugo de Jonge said the new variant has not yet been identified in the Netherlands. ‘But we have seen how fast other variants take hold, so we have to do the maximum to keep it out,’ he told reporters.

He said there are still many uncertainties about the new variant. ‘What we are doing is taking precautions,’ he added.

The new variant, known as B.1.1.529, already has a hold in South Africa and cases have been found in Botswana and, via a traveller, in Hong Kong.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has said Brussels will propose ‘activating the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region’ in close consultation with member states.

WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) is also meeting to determine if B.1.1.529 variant warrants a designation as one of ‘interest’ or of ‘concern’.

The variant was identified on Tuesday and stands out because it carries an ‘extremely high number’ of mutations.

‘The concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves,’ the WHO’s expert Maria van Kerkhove said.

Read the Guardian article on the new variant

Passengers

Some 600 people on board two plans from South Africa which arrived at Schiphol airport this morning have all been given a PCR test for coronavirus and must stay at the airport until they have their results.

As yet is is unclear if the passengers then have to go into quarantine, broadcaster NOS reported.

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