Dutch coronavirus infection rate declining: Health officials; ICU peak expected in May

This article is updated as the parliamentary briefing continues

Update 11:45 a.m. - The Netherlands will likely still be dealing with the coronavirus in a few months' time, Van Dissel said

Update 12:45 p.m. - The peak of coronavirus patients in ICU is expected at the end of May. Then ICUs in the country will be treating around 2,200 Covid-19 patients, the NVIC expects. 

The measures the Dutch government took to curb the spread of coronavirus Covid-19 seem to be succeeding in "flattening the curve". The infection rate of the outbreak is declining, Jaap van Dissel, director of public health institute RIVM said to parliamentarians on Wednesday. "At least there is a positive trend," he said, NOS reports. Diederik Gommers, chairman of the Dutch association for intensive care NVIC, also updated parliamentarians on the state of affairs in the ICUs.

The infection rate of the coronavirus in the Netherlands - the number of people a Covid-19 patient infects - is at or below one, Van Dissel said. It appears the government measures resulted in corona patients no longer transmitting the virus to at least two others, as was previously the case. "The exponential growth of the outbreak is therefore likely brought to a halt," he said. 

Though Van Dissel added that the infection rate is based on an estimate. There is still much uncertainty, and at least part of the leveling off is "because not all hospitalized patients are tested", he said. 

The daily increase in new positive Covid-19 tests has been below 20 percent since Sunday. On Sunday there was a 16 percent increase compared to Saturday. Monday's increase was 13 percent, and Tuesday's was 17 percent. Between Wednesday and Saturday last week, the daily increases were between 20 and 22 percent.

The RIVM director stressed that if people start gathering in groups at beaches and parks, the infection rate will increase again. But if everyone sticks to the government guidelines, Van Dissel is positive about the Netherlands' chances to flatten the curve. 

Despite this cautiously optimistic news, Van Dissel said that he does not want to speculate about when measures can be lifted. There are favorable sings, but also many uncertainties, he repeated "It is expected that we will still be busy with this for several months." 

The Netherlands does not have enough coronavirus tests. Some parts of the tests are scarce, which means that the rest of the test cannot take place, Van Dissel said. Groningen is testing more than the rest of the country, because Groningen has different equipment and supplies available, he said.

According to Van Dissel, it is difficult to compare the situation in the Netherlands to other countries. "Looking at the number of confirmed cases does not make much sense. Because there is insufficient testing. You cannot compare that figure with other countries." It is therefore difficult to say whether the Netherlands is doing better or worse than other countries. "If you look at the transfer number, the Netherlands is doing well."

The RIVM bases its figures on estimates and models, Van Dissel explained. "We are now mainly looking at hospital admissions and ICU admissions in the Netherlands as an indication of how it is developing." But not only these figures are taken into account when decisions are made on implementing or withdrawing measures. "We also take into account what our neighboring countries are doing."

According to NCIV chairman Gommers, around 600 Covid-19 patients were being treated in ICU on Wednesday. The NCIV expects this to increase to 1,100 coronavirus patients next week. On top of the coronavirus patients, ICUs are also treating some 500 patients sick in another way. "Those beds are not there now," Gommers said. The hospitals are working hard to get more beds and equipment available that are suitable for treating Covid-19 patients, he said.

The peak in ICUs is expected to come at the end of May, according to current models. "That is 2,200 beds," Gommers said. "It is nice that it is still far away, because many beds and equipment are still being delivered. For us, it is nice that the peak is so far away, because then we buy time."

Gommers added that there are major differences between hospitals in different regions. "Some hospitals are drowning. Others not yet," he said. According to him, hospitals with capacity are sometimes still reluctant to take in coronavirus patients. "When transferring patients, they sometimes say: 'we are still thinking about it'." He criticized this attitude. All hospitals must by this time be aware that the coronavirus needs to be tackled nationally and that hospitals in Noord-Brabant need help, he said. "It really has to work like this."

Gommers also said that ICUs in the different hospitals worried about a lack of central control, which is why a national coordination center was set up in Rotterdam.