10% of passengers onboard a pair of KLM flights from South Africa to Amsterdam tested positive onboard for COVID-19 upon arrival. The ramifications for international travel are not comforting.
10% of KLM Passengers From South African Flights Test Positive in AMS
Upon landing in Amsterdam Schiphol, KL598 from Cape Town and KL592 from Johannesburg were kept on the ground for several hours. After four hours, passengers were transported to a testing area where each was administered a COVID-19 test. Roughly 10% of the results, totaling 61 passengers over the two flights, returned positive.
Those passengers are now undergoing mandatory quarantine. Dutch citizens and residents were allowed to travel home to quarantine while foreign nationals were placed in a hotel to quarantine. Connecting passengers who tested negative were allowed to continue to their final destinations with instructions to quarantine upon arrival.
Positive Tests Raise Testing Questions
KLM has a testing requirement for flights from South Africa to the Netherlands. All passengers, whether ending in their journey in Amsterdam or connecting to another destination, were required to present a rapid antigen coronavirus test, taken not more than 24 hours before boarding their flight to the Netherlands. Vaccines were not required, though a self-imposed quarantine upon arrival was.
Thus, our first question is why so many tested positive? We don’t know how many have tested positive with the new omicron variant, but we are faced with a couple options. First, the tests may have been forged either directly by the passengers or by the rapid testing centers in South Africa. Second, could it be that the omicron variant really is 500% more transmissible? It could also be that neither option is the correct one.
Will Omicron Variant Ground Air Travel Around World?
Let’s move to the theoretical for a moment. Let’s just say this new omicron variant is highly transmissible. How will the world respond? Expect shutdowns and suspension of air traffic across Europe and Asia. We saw yesterday that nations will ban traffic from other nations at a moment’s notice. I suspect most of us recall how rapidly the world shut down in March 2020.
Are we headed for an encore performance? I certainly hope not. The evidence is not present yet to justify it and arguably no evidence could justify it. But I mention it now not to scare or instill fear or to send you on toilet paper runs to Costco, but because the tiny bits of incremental data we do have are alarming and nations have erred on the side of conservative caution throughout the pandemic.
Again, my point here is not to scare you, but to prepare you for what may happen. We should hope and pray that this latest twist to the virus is more benign than lethal. I would hope that many if not all of the 61 passengers onboard were asymptomatic.
But make no mistake: this latest variant is already in our midst. If it’s in Hong Kong, it’s in the USA and Canada and probably every Western European nation as well.
So now we wait and see. We should know tonight how many of the KLM passengers have the omicron variant. Within the next week, we should have the data we need to better understand the latest twist to our long battle against a microscopic virus.
61 passengers tested positive for COVID-19 on a pair of KLM flights from South Africa, totaling 10% of passengers onboard. With the aircraft sitting on the ground for hours and many passengers not wearing masks onboard, those numbers will probably rise over the next few days.
And if you would like further evidence of why there is no hope for humans, now we know that stat and still probably 30% of ppl are wearing no mask or only over mouth. Dutch authorities not enforcing. We’re just all in this unventilated room at hour 12, breathing on each other.
— Stephanie Nolen (@snolen) November 27, 2021
We need more data. These flights do suggest that omicron is more easily spreadable than past variants. It hardly suggests it is resistant to vaccines, since vaccinations rates remain low in South Africa. We are talking about two flights and don’t even know if the infected passengers have omicron, delta, or another variant. So for now, we wait.
But do be prepared: if the manner in which governments reacted to South Africa’s omicron disclosure on Friday is any indication, we may shortly see more border closures and flight cancellations.
image: KLM passengers from South Africa anxiously wait for their test results at Schiphol Airport (@jschultebockum / Twitter)