By Toby Sterling
AMSTERDAM – Dutch health authorities called for pre-flight COVID-19 tests regardless of vaccination status for travel from outside the European Union, revealing that about 90% of the 62 people who tested positive on two flights from South Africa on Nov. 26 had been vaccinated.
Under rules in place at the time, more than 600 passengers were able to board the KLM airline flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town with either proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 test results.
A spokesman for the health authority for Kennemerland, in which Schiphol airport is situated, said “around 90%” of those that tested positive had been vaccinated. KLM did not keep track of how individual passengers had met their preflight health requirements.
“By a combination of requiring tests before departure … and retesting five days after arrival, and knowing what happened, you can make flight safer,” said Jaap van Dissel, the head of infectious diseases at the Dutch Institute for Health (RIVM), in testimony to parliament on Wednesday. He also recommended quarantine for travellers from high-risk areas.
The RIVM‘s advice, not yet adopted by the Dutch government, is that only a PCR test taken 48 hours before arrival in the Netherlands be accepted, and that it be required regardless of vaccination status.
Countries around the world are sharpening flight rules after the discovery of the Omicron variant of the virus, dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, due to worries it could resist vaccinations and prolong the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Dutch government has said it is considering the RIVM‘s reommendations but it wants any decision to be made at the EU level. France, Portugal and Ireland have already adopted similar policies.
Health authorities in Kennemerland also said on Thursday they were releasing more than half of the infected passengers, who had been kept in isolation at a hotel near the airport, after subsequent tests showed they were no longer carrying the virus.
The authorities did not say whether any of the 14 passengers that were found to be infected with the Omicron variant of the virus were being released, citing privacy reasons.
“Persons that tested positive (a second time) will remain in isolation. Their situation varies … some have symptoms, others don’t or barely,” Kennemerland health director Bert van Velden said.