Around 600 passengers arrived on two planes in Schipol Airport, near Amsterdam, from Johannesburg — the epicentre for the new strain which experts fear is 40 per cent more vaccine evasive than Delta — hours after travel bans were put in place.
Countries across Europe closed their borders to countries in southern Africa yesterday as a measure against the variant but cases have already been detected in Israel and Belgium — despite the woman who tested positive for the strain there never having been to southern Africa.
The US has joined the growing list of countries, with President Joe Biden saying the pandemic will not end until global vaccinations 'are in place'.
The passengers in the Netherlands have been placed in quarantine hotels while the authorities investigate whether they have been infected with the variant. Some complained at being left on the plane for hours with no snacks or water.
Authorities in the country have just announced the early closure of bars, restaurants and some shops due to the record-breaking surge of Covid sweeping through the country.
It comes as Boris Johnson prepares to implement fresh travel bans on a host of countries, after Britain halted flights to South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe yesterday.
Experts warned Britain could face restrictions being reintroduced in the country this Christmas but the Prime Minister hopes travel bans could prevent the need for another lockdown.
England's Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said he fears Britons will not accept lockdown rules to fight off the variant over the winter because of 'behavioural fatigue' caused by two years of restrictions.
No cases have been recorded in Britain so far but Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser of the UK's Health and Security Agency (UKHSA), warned it was 'possible' the strain' is already in the country.
Pictured: Passengers wait on their Covid test results at Schiphol Airport, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands last night
Passengers from KLM flight KL598 from Cape Town, South Africa wait to be screened at Amsterdam Airport, the Netherlands, yesterday
A woman from the KLM flight KL598 from Cape Town, South Africa, queues for her Covid test at Amsterdam Airport last night
Cases of Omicron have already been picked up in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium. It is not yet known whether the variant arrived in the Netherlands yesterday but Dutch authorities are sequencing passengers' tests
Scientists have said they are concerned about the B.1.1.529 variant, named by the World Health Organisation as Omicron, as it has around 30 different mutations - double the amount present in the Delta variant. The mutations contain features seen in all of the other variants but also traits that have not been seen before.
UK scientists first became aware of the new strain on November 23 after samples were uploaded on to a coronavirus variant tracking website from South Africa, Hong Kong and then Botswana.
On Friday, it was confirmed that cases had been identified in Israel and Belgium but currently there are no known cases in the UK.
Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told Good Morning Britain on Friday that sequencing is being carried out around the UK to determine if any cases have already been imported.
Work is also under way to see whether the new variant may be causing new infection in people who have already had coronavirus or a vaccine, or whether waning immunity may be playing a role.
Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute in Oxford, has said the new variant will 'almost certainly' make vaccines less effective, though they would still offer protection.
Pfizer/BioNTech, which has produced a vaccine against Covid-19, is already studying the new variant's ability to evade vaccines.
On another day of coronavirus chaos:The first European case in Belgium was revealed to be an unvaccinated young woman tested positive; The number of patients hospitalised with Covid fell sharply in the UK; An official report concluded that a visit to the theatre or a football match puts you at no more risk of catching Covid than seeing your friends; South African experts suggested there was 'every indication' that vaccines were still effective against the variant; Speculation mounted that the discovery of the strain would lead to vaccine experts approving booster jabs for all adults soon; Another 50,091 virus cases and 160 deaths were reported in Britain.
The Dutch health ministry said: 'Travellers with a positive test result will be placed in isolation at a hotel at or near Schiphol.
'Of the positive test results, we are researching as quickly as possible whether they are the new variant of concern, now named Omicron.'
The Dutch government banned all air travel from southern Africa early on Friday. Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said that passengers already en route