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Omicron in the low countries

Dutch health ministry confirms 13 cases of Omicron variant

Of the 61 passengers who tested positive for COVID-19 after landing in Amsterdam on Friday, the Dutch health ministry has confirmed that 13 are infected with the Omicron variant, BBC reported.

The two flights, which carried over 600 people total, came from South Africa. Passengers who tested positive for COVID-19 have been quarantined since arrival. Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge told reporters it is "not unthinkable that there are more cases in the Netherlands" and urged his countrymen to get tested.

With this news, the Netherlands joins a growing list of nations with confirmed cases of the Omicron strain. According to The New York Times, the new variant has now reached Denmark and Australia. CNN reports confirmed cases in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Israel, Hong Kong, and Czechia. No cases have been detected in the United States, but Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview Saturday that he "would not be surprised" if the Omicron strain had reached the U.S. already. 

The World Health Organization has designated Omicron as a "variant of concern," meaning that it is highly infectious or transmissible, or that it is especially resistant to vaccines and other treatments. Most known cases of the variant originated in southern Africa.

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, who chairs the South African Medical Association, told The Telegraph that, so far, she has observed "unusual but mild" symptoms in people infected with the Omicron variant.

A growing number of countries — including the United States, Brazil, Canada, Japan, and South Korea — have announced restrictions on travel from southern Africa, as has the European Union. Israel will close its borders to all non-citizens for two weeks beginning Monday in an attempt to slow the spread of Omicron. Israel's internal security agency also announced that it will resume tracking the cell phones of Israelis who are confirmed to be carrying the new variant.