How 2 Flights to Europe May Have Spurred Spread of New Variant

After the emergence of the Omicron variant in Africa last week, the United States and the European Union and other nations banned flights from southern Africa. Israel and Morocco slammed their doors on the world. Australia, Japan and other countries postponed opening up and joined China, which has adopted a fortress mentality as it seeks to vanquish the virus at home altogether.

For all the focus on the flights to the Netherlands, positive cases of Omicron have already emerged in several countries, and public health experts consider its emergence everywhere inevitable.

A vaccinated Italian, who has not been publicly identified, returned from business in Mozambique earlier in November to the southern town of Caserta. He said on Italian radio that he had tested negative before boarding his flight on Nov. 11, as was required by Italy. Since he was traveling for work, he did not, per Italian rules, have to self-isolate upon return.

It was only during a medical checkup in Milan, where he also underwent a Covid test so that he could return to Mozambique, that he tested positive for the coronavirus, and then, amid the heightened attention to the new variant, for Omicron. Now he and his wife and children, who are also positive for the virus, are in isolation, all for now with light symptoms.

On Tuesday, KLM, the airline which operated the two flights Friday from South Africa, apologized to passengers. But Marjan Rozemeijer, a spokeswoman for the company, suggested it had been just as caught off guard by the variant as anyone.

Upon the landing of the flights at Schiphol Airport, she said, the company was “asked by the Dutch government to park our aircrafts in a particular location so that all passengers could be tested,” and added that the airport and the Dutch Public health authorities had organized and performed the testing.

A spokesman for the Dutch public health service, by contrast, said it had gone above and beyond in its efforts and saw nothing wrong with letting the passengers who had tested negative for the virus proceed on their journeys.

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