Dutch coronavirus total hits 2,051; 15 more deaths, 346 more infections

Stock image of a doctor with a blood sample tested for coronavirus
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Another 364 people tested positive for the Covid-19 variant of the novel coronavirus since Tuesday, and 15 more people infected with the virus were pronounced dead. The total number of people in the country who have been diagnosed with the virus stands at 2,051, Dutch health agency RIVM announced.

Roughly a fourth of those infected, 485, work in the healthcare industry. Those workers are tested more frequently than anyone else, the RIVM explained.

"In total, 58 people have now died [with] the disease. The dead are between 63 and 95 years old. A total of 408 patients were or have been admitted to a hospital," the RIVM said.

Provincially, Noord-Brabant is still more affected by the virus than any of the other 11 provinces. Another 125 people who reside there tested positive for the virus, a total of 759 since testing began.

Limburg increased by 68 patients to 265, and Zuid-Holland increased by 66 to 241.

The RIVM launched an infection tracker on Wednesday in an attempt to more accurately track the spread of the coronavirus - as many people have only mild symptoms, they are never officially tested for the virus and they therefore don't form part of the figures. The health service called on Netherlands residents to sign up at this website, and monitor their health through the site. Participants will receive a questionnaire about their background - gender, age, existing diseases and the like - and then a weekly email with a request to submit which symptoms they had over the past week. This includes things like a running nose, cough, fever, sneezing and the like. 

"The RIVM hopes for around 100 thousand participants spread throughout the Netherlands," the institute said. "For this it does not matter whether people actually have Covid-19 or, for example, the flu or a cold. This mainly concerns the course of the associated complaints and the pressure this creates in healthcare."

The first call for participants resulted in the infection tracker website crashing. "Very nice that so many people want to help!" RIVM wrote on Twitter around noon. "Unfortunately the website currently has technical  problems. We are working on a solution."

The RIVM also spoke to parliament on Wednesday, explaining the Netherlands' approach to "flatten the curve" of the infection rate so that the Dutch healthcare system does not get overloaded, while at the same time building up herd immunity against the virus. Herd immunity is not the main goal, but merely a tactic to buy time until there is a vaccine, RIVM director Jaap van Dissel told the Tweede Kamer. 

Responding to criticism that the "herd immunity" approach is risky and could lead to many deaths, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that the Netherlands' approach is not different to other countries' approach who called for a lockdown. According to him, France and Belgium locked their countries down because their ICU departments are completely full to capacity. The Netherlands is not there yet, so a lockdown is not yet necessary, he said to NOS. 

The Ministry of Defense is preparing for all kinds of scenarios to help the Netherlands fight against the coronavirus, Minister Ank Bijleveld said to NOS on Wednesday. "Fortunately, military deployment has not yet been necessary, but if necessary we will support where possible." She pointed out that the armed forces have medical capacity. There is a disaster hospital in Utrecht, as well as an emergency hospital and reception capacity for quarantine. Defense ships also have advance and spacious infirmaries to treat people with infectious diseases. The Zr. Ms. Karel Doorman already proved this when it was used to help combat Ebola in West Africa in 2014, according to the Ministry. 

The university hospitals in Nijmegen and Utrecht are testing out whether the vaccine against tuberculous can help protect their healthcare workers against Covid-19. The TB vaccine boosts the immune system. The hope is that this boost will help healthcare workers fight off infection, or at least that the course of the infection will be milder. 

Researchers from the Leiden University Medical Center are teaming up with seven European partners to investigate if they can develop antiviral therapy to fight coronaviruses, NU.nl reports. They hope to develop combination treatments for patients infected with Covid-19 within the next six to nine months. 

The Groningen University Medical Center announced that it is opening a special outpatient clinic for coronavirus patients on Thursday. The clinic will have a separate entrance, and patients with symptoms that could indicate a Covid-19 infection will first be taken there for examination. 

KLM's partners in China - China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, and Xiamen Airlines - donated tens of thousands of medical masks to the Netherlands. The first shipment of 80 thousand masks arrived at Schiphol on Wednesday. The Ministry of Justice and Security also announced that it is setting around 100 prisoners to making masks. 

Tens of thousands of Dutch are stuck abroad due to travel restrictions triggered by the coronavirus. The general association of Dutch travel agencies ANVR estimates that this involves around 200 thousand people. Getting them all back to the Netherlands will take weeks, ANVR director Frank Oostdam said to NOS. "This is the new reality and we are going to act from there," he said. "We can't get them all back at the same time, we just can't."