couple moved into forced isolation in a Dutch hospital after they walked out of a Covid-19 hotel gains freedom
Carolina Pimenta tested positive for Covid-19 after landing at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport on a flight from South Africa on Friday.
She was arrested by military police on Sunday night on a plane about to take off for Spain. The couple have now been told prosecutors have decided not to pursue the case.
Ms Pimenta and her partner Andrés Sanz were among 624 passengers who arrived in Amsterdam from South Africa hours after a Dutch ban on flights came into force linked to the discovery of the Omicron variant. Sixty-one of those travellers tested positive for Covid-19, and further sequencing has found at least 14 of them are carrying the new strain.
It has since emerged that the new variant was present in the Netherlands even earlier than thought, in samples taken on 19 and 23 November.
Carolina, a Portuguese bio-chemical researcher who turns 28 in a few days, was among the 61 who tested positive, while her Spanish partner was negative. She had already had a negative PCR test before the flight.
They wanted to stay together so both were transferred into quarantine at the Ramada Hotel, a 10-minute drive from the terminal. But Carolina was convinced she had returned a false-positive so she asked local health authority staff for another test.
She told the BBC that staff from the local health authority, on duty in a room near the hotel reception, had suggested her partner borrow a bike and cycle to the supermarket to buy a lateral flow antigen test. As a close contact of a person who recently tested positive he was supposed to be isolating too.
The couple allege they showed the negative results to Dutch police and local health team on site, insisting they were told, “If I were you I would go.” They then caught a taxi back to the airport and used negative PCR tests they took before boarding their flight from South Africa to get on a plane to Spain.
North Holland police spokesman Willem Gijtenbeek told the BBC that until that specific point they had had no jurisdiction to hold or detain anyone for breaking quarantine. “However, when the couple left the hotel, the head of Kennermerland security area took legal measures because of the threat to public health and ordered their mandatory isolation,” he explained.
The local Kennemerland health authority denied the couple had been given permission to leave the hotel. The problem, a spokesperson said, was that quarantine was voluntary but the couple still had a responsibility to remain in isolation.
After the couple left the hotel, the local mayor of Haarlemmermeer, Marianne Schuurmans, arranged for the couple to be held under an emergency order, and that changed the status of their quarantine to enforced.
Military police promptly boarded the plane and arrested Carolina.
“It’s shameful as a Dutch person to see how they have been treated,” Bart Maes, the couple’s lawyer, told the BBC.
The Netherlands imposed an extended partial lockdown at the weekend and is one of several European countries struggling to contain record numbers of coronavirus infections. Faced with a shortage of intensive care beds, the government has imposed a 17:00 closure of bars, restaurants and most shops.
But Mr Maes, who has also campaigned against the Dutch Corona vaccine passport, believes everyone involved in the couple’s case should be ashamed. “It’s bureaucracy all over, no-one knows what anyone else is doing, everyone is blaming everyone else.”
Mr Sanz has not tested positive. Other than the positive test on arrival, Carolina Pimenta has taken two PCR tests and two antigen tests, all of which returned negative.
The couple were moved to a tuberculosis hospital in the northern town of Haren, where they were told they had to remain in quarantine until five days after Carolina’s positive PCR test at Schiphol on Friday.
“We went on a dream holiday in Africa and now we are living a nightmare. We are watching the world say we are criminals with a story that is just a lie,” she complained.
Their lawyer told the BBC on Tuesday evening that the hospital had told him they were were being released. The case had been handed to the public prosecutor, who had decided not to seek an extension to their isolation, he explained.
“We’re free!” Carolina Pimenta said in a message to the BBC.
They would now travel to the Spanish consulate ahead of being flown on to Spain, her lawyer told the BBC.
To him it’s absurd that, for someone suspected of being a super-spreader, the researcher is left to mix in a room with hundreds of passengers and then moved all over the country, meeting consular staff and lawyers.
“If they had Omicron then we really would be in trouble.”