Virus containment 'significantly' better than herd immunity: report

The benefits of trying to build widespread public immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the Netherlands are significantly outweighed by the benefits of trying to contain the virus instead, a new report by KPMG Health and the Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam has argued. On this basis, according to the researchers, the cabinet and RIVM should be clearer about which strategy they intend to follow.

"[A] containment strategy offers significant benefits both to the economy and to public health when compared to group immunity," said David Ikkersheim, a partner at KPMG Health. In effect, he believes, such a strategy could save the Dutch economy as much as 123 billion euros by 2022, equivalent to over three percent of GDP. "If other European countries also participate in this strategy, this will increase even further," Ikkersheim added. 

Not only would the economy stand to benefit from following a containment strategy, the researchers pointed out further, but so would the overall toll on human life. According to KPMG Health and VU Amsterdam, a containment strategy could prevent around 50,000 future deaths at the hands of Covid-19.

A containment strategy, which is designed to use testing and contact tracing to keep an eye on transmissions and take measures where necessary, differs from the so-called 'herd immunity' approach, which is designed to let the Covid-19 disease run its course in the hopes of widespread immunity putting a cap on future infection rates. The Netherlands has so far tried to balance both approaches, according to the report, with a clearer decision needed from the cabinet, RIVM and the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) going forward.

According to the report, in order to implement a strategy of containment, the results of widespread testing should be made more promptly available, and efforts should be made to detect at least 80 percent of others with whom an infected person came into contact.

"This is a strategy in which the reproduction number remains permanently below 1. An important side note is that this is an objective and not a result obligation. The uncertainties surrounding the virus are simply too great for this," explained Xander Koolman, a health economist at VU Amsterdam.

In addition, according to the researchers, another major step that can be taken in order to contain the transmission of Covid-19 would be the mandatory screening of new arrivals at Dutch airports.