Virologist urges caution, says coronavirus rules should remain at Christmas
Virologist from the Amsterdam University Medical Center (UMC) and member of the Outbreak Management Team (OMT), Menno de Jong, urges the country not to ease restrictions over Christmas. “Now that the coronavirus is still so widespread, it is better not to relax [restrictions] at all around Christmas," he told AT5.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Health Minister Hugo de Jonge will hold a press conference this Tuesday in which the rules for the Christmas and New Year’s celebrations are expected to be announced.
“If you look purely in terms of the virus and the fight against the virus, then you better not do anything. But politics also plays a role in making decisions, so we’ll see what happens,” says de Jong.
He argues that the government should not relax restrictions from a medical perspective. “We are in the festive season and also in the month when it gets colder. Viruses generally spread much more easily. With this level of infections and the small decrease, it is becoming increasingly difficult to think; let’s relax around Christmas and New Year’s Eve.”
At his press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte also points toward the complexity of the decision, considering the slow decline in infections since restrictions were tightened. In recent weeks, the number of infections has remained between 4,000 and 6,000 per day.
De Jong acknowledges the issue saying that “nationwide the decline is very slow. You can see this in the number of infections, but also in the number of hospital admissions. It all stagnates a bit, or it drops very slightly.”
He sees the laxer rules as a reason for this stagnation. “In the first wave, the measures were much stricter, and they were adhered to much better. There was a kind of collective responsibility, which is now somewhat less.”
This time around, more people have gone back to the office for work. Moreover, schools are also open. “There is a big difference in the scope of measures between the first and second wave,” says de Jong.
Yet, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel, as the Netherlands is making plans to start vaccinating early next year. De Jong explains that “the vaccination will be gradual. The first groups of people to be vaccinated are the vulnerable. That’s really, just like all other measures, meant to protect them.”
He explains that in doing so, pressure on hospitals will decrease. The next in line for the vaccine would be care workers, which would lift additional pressure on the hospitals. According to de Jong, the country can start relaxing Covid rules after these groups have been vaccinated. “Then we will be in March 2021, I think.” He says from there, hypothesizing, testing and fine-tuning will be needed to see where strict rules may be made more flexible.
In the summer of 2021, we will take further steps to get to the ‘old normal,’ he says. “It is a healthy starting point to say together: let’s all get through that winter well, and let’s do our best for a while. If we start to vaccinate, the weather will also improve, and there will be plenty of room for increasing relaxation and an increasingly normal society. Until the moment that we can shake hands and hug each other again.”
All of that depends on the number of vaccines, the logistics, and how many people want to be vaccinated. For the population to reach herd immunity, approximately seventy percent need to get vaccinated.