Netherlands underestimated coronavirus: Outbreak Management expert

Shopping in Covid-19 pandemic - Buying toilet paper, wearing a mask
Shopping in Covid-19 pandemic - Buying toilet paper, wearing a maskeldarnurkovicDepositPhotosDeposit Photos

The Netherlands' institute on public health RIVM underestimated the coronavirus until late in February, Aura Timen, head of the Netherlands' center for the coordination of infections disease control LCI and a member of the Outbreak Management Team (OMT), said to NRC. "Not only us, it caught all of Europe by surprise," Timen said. "Certainly in Western Europe there was a massive influx of infections due to the winter sports holidays, and in the Netherlands we had an extra pusher: the carnival."

She called the start of the pandemic in Europe an "unreal" experience. "I have been teaching medical students for a long time. The concept of lockdown was only discussed from a historical perspective, during the plague, or locally during the flu pandemic in 1918. A lockdown was not among the arsenal of measures for outbreaks in the Western world."

"I will never forget how it started," Timen said to the newspaper. "On Friday 21 February, I spoke at a symposium in Amsterdam. I had delved into the situation in Europe: in Italy they had three corona cases, people from China, who had been hospitalized since the end of January. Nothing else at all. We had two groups of infections in Europe: one in France, one in Germany. So I said in my talk that the risks were not too bad. I was attacked about that later, rightly I think, I might have been overconfident." In a matter of days, the virus spread across the continent. On her way home from the conference, Timen saw that there were seven new infections in Italy. "The next day there were dozens, on Sunday hundreds."

Timen expects that the Netherlands, and Europe, will have to deal with a second wave of the coronavirus in the fall. "I don't see any reason why that shouldn't happen. This type of respiratory virus, including other coronaviruses, thrives in the winter season," she said to NRC. "In the autumn and winter we are indoors more, on top of one another." Prime conditions for the coronavirus to spread. But, she added, "if we comply with the rules 100 percent, there is a chance that we can keep it very limited."