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Omicron: Netherlands detects 13 cases of new Covid variant from two South Africa flights

Thirteen cases of the new Covid variant omicron have been detected in the Netherlands among passengers on two flights from South Africa.

Authorities at Schipol airport in Amsterdam had tested more than 600 passengers from the two flights that had arrived on Friday.

Some 61 cases of Covid in total were found – 13 (more than a fifth) of them the omicron variant, which is feared to be extremely contagious compared to previous variants.

However, experts do not yet know if the omicron variant causes more or less severe Covid compared to other variants.

But it has been found to have 32 mutations in its spike protein.

Dutch health minister Hugo de Jonge told a press conference in Rotterdam: “It is not unlikely more cases will appear in the Netherlands.

“This could possibly be the tip of the iceberg.”

The Netherlands is set to go into a new lockdown later today, that had been planned prior to the discovery of the omicron variant in due to a spike in cases driven by the delta variant.

The Dutch authorities are also attempting to contact 5,000 other passengers who have arrived from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia or Zimbabwe since Monday.

The discovery of omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” last week by the World Health Organisation (WHO), has sparked worries that it could resist vaccinations and prolong the pandemic that has gone on for nearly two years.

Omicron was first discovered in southern African nations, and has now been detected in the UK, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Botswana, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong.

Many countries have banned flights from at least seven nations in southern Africa in attempts to curb the spread of the variant.

Israel has become the first country to shut its borders completely after the discovery of the variant.

The return to travel restrictions has seen financial markets plunge earlier this week over fears that economic recovery will be delayed further.