Little room for lockdown restrictions to be relaxed, Health Minister says
There is very little room to ease the current lockdown restrictions meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus, outgoing Minister Hugo de Jonge of Public Health said on Monday after meeting with the mayors on the security Council. A third wave of coronavirus infections is coming, "and that means you have to be very careful with the first steps you take," he said, NU.nl reports.
De Jonge and Prime Minister Mark Rutte will hold a press conference on Tuesday evening to update the Dutch population on the state of affairs around the pandemic. De Jonge warned against thinking of relaxations being announced, because according to him there is "very little reason" for this.
On Sunday, the government already said that primary schools and daycare facilities will be allowed to open from February 8. There are also reports that curfew will be lifted from February 10 if infections continue to fall. And that shops and restaurants will be allowed to offer pickup services from next week, though will have to remain closed for on-site shopping until early March.
While the number of daily coronavirus infections is falling, the government announced that an estimated half of them are now due to the more contagious B117 strain. This strain, first identified in the United Kingdom, is therefore gaining ground despite the current lockdown restrictions. And epidemiologists therefore warn against relaxing measures too soon, NOS reports.
"I think it is still a bit early. We are in a very uncertain time and see the same thing in all countries around us: the British variant has a higher [reproduction number] with the same measures," pediatrician epidemiologist Patricia Bruijning of University Medical Center Utrecht said to the broadcaster. "With the current measures it is already complicated to get the R-number below 1, let alone if you are going to relax them."
According to Bruijning, opening primary schools alone and keeping all other measures in place is a better idea. "Primary schools are now opening with a much more extensive package of measures than before," she said. "The expectation is that we will be able to limit the spread in schools and that the effect on of reopening on the R-number will remain limited, but we cannot be sure. It has to be proven in practice."
Alma Tostmann, epidemiologist at Radboud UMC, thinks that the government should postpone relaxing the measures by a week or two. "Then you lift it over spring break and you can see how things are going."
Field epidemiologist and microbiologist Amrish Baidjoe, affiliated with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, also believes the lockdown should remain as-is for a while. "The proportion of the British variant is increasing, the South African and Brazilian variants are additional reason to be careful."