'Uncertainty rising': Most still vulnerable to coronavirus infection

Covid-19: Three young men walk past a 'Fight the Virus' sign on Panamalaan in Amsterdam, 22 April 2020
Covid-19: Three young men walk past a 'Fight the Virus' sign on Panamalaan in Amsterdam, 22 April 2020NL TimesNL Times

The sustained decline in the number of active Covid-19 cases in the Netherlands will not continue for much longer, with uncertainty around the situation "increasing very quickly," according to public health experts Jaap van Dissel and Jacco Wallinga. In an interview with the public broadcaster NOS on Saturday, the pair explained that most Dutch residents remain vulnerable to infection from the disease.

Touching on statements he had made in April in which he asserted that herd immunity was expected to come naturally to the Netherlands, RIVM head Van Dissel conceded that, in reality, far fewer people had been infected with the disease, leaving a majority of Netherlands residents susceptible to infection in the future.

"'Herd Immunity': So much has been said about that," he said. "In some areas of the Netherlands, the percentage of people who have antibodies is at 10 percent and in other regions it is 1 percent. That means that the majority of the population is still sensitive to getting infected, and you take steps there," explained Van Dissel.

Adding that new insights have continued to be gleaned along the way, Van Dissel explained that the RIVM had needed to update its strategy in order to keep up with new information. "In the beginning everything was less clear. It wasn't at all clear whether we'd be able to contain it. That is always a renewal of both insights into the virus and the strategy you choose," he said.

Van Dissel's comments come as the Netherlands recorded its best week yet with regards to Covid-19 figures in the country. On Monday, no deaths were recorded from the disease for the first time in over 100 days, with new cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions also slumping over the course of the week.

Nonetheless, concerns remain about the potential for a second wave of infections in the country as its phased reopening continues apace, with Prime Minister Mark Rutte announcing on Wednesday that a sweeping new set of restrictions would be eased from July 1.

"We have to be patient and wait how this all works out. We have a few extra uncertainties in the summer: how are the holidays going? And after the summer we have an extra uncertainty with starting up the schools," said RIVM infectious disease modeler Wallinga.

"We are in a situation that we have never experienced before," he said. Wallinga promoted the notion that in order to relax rules further, the cautious approach has worked well thus far, and the country must continue to take things step-by-step.