Written by Staff Writer
The Netherlands and South Africa have become embroiled in a political spat after two Dutch tourists were taken into custody in Johannesburg while allegedly fleeing from a quarantine hotel in Amsterdam.
South African authorities opened an investigation into the case after being informed by the Netherlands that the couple, who have not been named, may have deliberately breached an order banning visiting South Africans from entering an order-free room in an Amsterdam hotel on May 30.
The Dutch had prohibited visiting South Africans from travelling to the city that day, in order to protect the interests of the previously infected cases.
The HIV and AIDS patient patients’ names had been stripped from a list issued by the Dutch national health authority (NVH), who had included the couple on an embargo list.
Otmar van Veen, director of medical services for the Johannesburg regional health department, said on Wednesday he has been in touch with his Dutch counterparts to ensure the incident does not lead to a breach of trust between the two countries.
“They have no reason to doubt me,” van Veen said during a press conference about the incident.
Affected travelers will receive letters by the end of the week, advising them of the steps they need to take next time they want to visit an embargoed zone, van Veen said.
In response to the situation, South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation said a high-level “joint discussion” will take place on Thursday between both countries’ health authorities.
The incident has caused uproar in the Dutch media, where politicians expressed their outrage.
Sifiso Nkosi, president of the Treatment Action Campaign, one of the organization who successfully fought for “HIV Cure Day” to be observed on June 7, said he was not surprised by the incident.
“When we first started the campaign for ARTs (antiretroviral medicines) and free drugs, we tried to make sure that people within the quarantine area, people not under the same policies as us, were also free to receive care,” Nkosi said.
“It’s not possible to pretend that all of the communicable diseases are the same, or that there’s no risk of contact for just one part of the country.”
Reeder Overmars, CEO of the National Association of People Living with HIV and AIDS, said the incident was symptomatic of “long-standing problems, leading to distrust of each other’s health policies.”
“It’s about respecting each other’s sovereignty and allowing our citizens to travel free of charge,” Overmars said.
However, van Veen said the couple had not been taking advantage of the situation.
“We have two patients from the previous case who are currently continuing to receive treatment in the Netherlands, and we can say without any question whatsoever that the couple had no intentions of infringing on any restrictions,” van Veen said.