Decline in Covid-19 deaths and hospitalizations continues; RIVM to consider exit strategies

Covid-19: Handwritten sign advertising hand sanitizer, masks for sale in Amsterdam, 16 April 2020
Covid-19: Handwritten sign advertising hand sanitizer, masks for sale in Amsterdam, 16 April 2020NL TimesNL Times

This article was updated to reflect that the peak number of reported deaths took place on March 31, when 163 people with coronavirus died, not on April 2, when 162 people died.

Dutch health officials said that at least 48 people with coronavirus died on Wednesday and 46 more people died on Tuesday than previously thought, bringing the total number of deaths in the Netherlands to 3,315. So far, the agency knows of 74 deaths on Tuesday, with adjustments to previously-released data stretching back to March 21 that raised the total number of deaths by 181.

It continues a downward trend in fatal coronavirus cases since March 31, when 163 were known to have died. That is the most known deaths connected to coronavirus in any given day.

At least 70 people who tested positive for the virus in the Netherlands were hospitalized on Wednesday, continuing a steady decline since March 24, when 559 new patients were hospitalized. Data released by the RIVM on Thursday added 182 hospitalizations to their tally with adjustments to data stretching all the way back to March 14 as more test results were conducted and became known.

To date, the RIVM knows of 9,309 hospitalizations in the Netherlands of patients with coronavirus, including those being treated for Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus.

The data released on Thursday showed that 147,948 people have been tested for coronavirus in the Netherlands. Of that group, 29,214 have tested positive, an increase of 1,061 over figures released on Wednesday.

Distance measures and exit strategies

RIVM director Jaap van Dissel gave his weekly update on the state of affairs around the coronavirus to parliament on Thursday. According to Van Dissel, social distancing measures resulted in people in the Netherlands having 64 to 75 percent less contact with each other, resulting in a decrease in contamination. "So the measures work," he said, NOS reports.

The infection rate - how many other people a Covid-19 patient infects - is currently under 1. Over 1 is risky, because then too many people become infected, risking overloading the healthcare system.

Due to the nature of the coronavirus, many people are still getting infected despite the measures, Van Dissel told the parliamentarians. "Apparently this virus is able to pass from one person to another relatively easily," he said. But according to him, the shortage in protective clothing did not accelerate the spread of the virus.

He maintained that it makes little sense for Netherlands residents who do not work in healthcare to where masks. For the general public, keeping 1.5 meters apart, staying at home if you have symptoms, and washing your hands regularly should be sufficient, he said.

The government's Outbreak Management Team will have an important task in the coming weeks, Van Dissel said. That is to consider an exit strategy. According to Van Dissel, the social distancing measures can only be scaled down if the consequences can be properly estimated and it does not lead to another major outbreak.

In examining exit strategies, the RIVM is also looking into taking different measures per region as there are major differences between the region. In northern Netherlands, for example, the number of coronavirus infections is very low, while Noord-Brabant has thousands of infections.

He outlined that there are advantages and disadvantages to a regional approach. The advantage is that companies can reopen faster and people will be able to do more. But it could also trigger unwanted flows of people.

"When the bars closed in Belgium, many Belgians came to the Netherlands," he said as an example. It will also make clear and concise information very important as different measures in different parts of the country can cause confusion.