Authorities had tested all of the more than 600 passengers on those two flights and found 61 cases of the coronavirus, then tested them for the new variant.
This was before the Dutch government restricted air traffic from southern Africa due to concerns about the variant.
“It is not unlikely that other cases will appear in the Netherlands,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said at a press conference in Rotterdam on Sunday. “This could be the tip of the iceberg. “
A spokesperson for KLM, the Dutch branch of Air France, said earlier that passengers on the flight had either tested negative or shown proof of vaccination before boarding planes in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
“It goes too far to say that we are surprised” by the high number of cases, said a spokesperson for KLM. “But we don’t have an explanation. “
The spokesperson said it was possible that many positive cases were among people vaccinated, or that an unusual number of people developed infections after testing negative.
Dutch health officials were seeking to contact some 5,000 other passengers who have traveled since Monday from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia or Zimbabwe to urge them to take a COVID-19 test as soon as possible.
First discovered in South Africa, the variant has now been detected in the UK, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Botswana, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong .
“It’s a little scary”
Paula Zimmerman, a Dutch photographer who returned from a family visit to South Africa on Friday morning, said the situation for plane passengers was chaotic as they waited on the tarmac and in the terminal for hours.
Zimmerman learned she tested negative at 4 a.m., nearly 6 p.m. after landing in Amsterdam. But then she found out that she was standing right next to a man who found out he had tested positive.
“It was really weird. There was no coordination. There were too few people and there was really no one taking control.
After spending hours on a flight that likely had many infected passengers, Zimmerman was anxious for days to come, she said.
“I was told they expected a lot more people to test positive after five days. It’s a little scary, the thought that you’ve been on a plane with a lot of people who have tested positive.
New York Times global health reporter Stephanie Nolen also tweeted about her ordeal in what she called “Dystopia Central Airline Hallway.”
She described how passengers, including babies and toddlers, were crammed together while waiting to be tested, when “still 30 percent of people don’t wear masks or wear only the mouth “.
Dutch citizens are still allowed to return home from southern Africa, while citizens of the European Union are allowed to enter in transit to their country of origin.
Medical personnel, airline crews and people with urgent needs are also still allowed to travel. KLM will continue flights to the region, but all travelers must now test negative before departure and then quarantined for at least five days upon arrival in the Netherlands.
The new variant was detected as many European countries grapple with an increase in coronavirus cases.
The Dutch government announced the night-time shutdowns of bars, restaurants and most shops on Friday as it tries to curb a record spate of COVID-19 cases flooding its healthcare system.