Covid fears. | FABIAN BIMMER

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A couple caught trying to escape from COVID-19 quarantine in the Netherlands after testing positive for the coronavirus have been transferred to a hospital where they were being held in isolation, an official said.

The pair, a Spanish man and Portuguese woman, left the hotel where travellers who tested positive for the virus were staying after arriving at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport from South Africa.

"They have now been transferred to a hospital elsewhere in the Netherlands to ensure they are in isolation. They are now in so-called forced isolation," said Petra Faber, spokesperson for Haarlemmermeer municipality, where Schiphol is located just outside of the capital.

"We don't know who tested positive for the new variant and we wouldn't say because of privacy," Faber said.

The couple fled the hotel on Sunday and had boarded a plane to Spain when they were detained by military police at the airport, said Faber. They were among 61 out of the more than 600 passengers who arrived on two flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town on Friday and tested positive for COVID-19.

At least 13 of those infected have the newly identified Omicron variant of the virus, Dutch health authorities said on Sunday.

Security at the hotel has in the meantime been increased to ensure the quarantined guests stay in their rooms. It is being guarded by regular police and military police.

The discovery of Omicron, dubbed a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization, has sparked worries around the world that it could resist vaccinations and prolong the nearly two-year-old COVID-19 pandemic.

Dutch authorities are also seeking to contact and test some 5,000 other passengers who have travelled from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia or Zimbabwe.

In the Netherlands, tougher COVID-19 measures went into effect on Sunday to curb record daily infection rates of more than 20,000 and ease pressure on hospitals.