De Jonge very concerned about Omicron; More Covid measures "if necessary"
Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said that extra coronavirus measures are a real possibility due to the emergence of the Omicron variant, but he does not want to make guesses about the future. "If necessary, we will take the appropriate measures," he said on Friday after the Cabinet meeting. This could be discussed among ministers on Sunday and Monday, and a press conference to announce any changes could happen on Tuesday. Prime Minister Mark Rutte also said that he was "not hopeful" about the situation.
Additional measures could include limits on household visitors, and further imitations on the hospitality, culture, and retail sectors. The closure of entire sectors, and even a hard lockdown are still possible, a source told newspaper AD.
The experts of the Outbreak Management Team met on Friday about the Omicron variant, which is rapidly gaining ground in the United Kingdom, Denmark, and elsewhere. When asked if De Jonge is optimistic, he said, "No. We are very concerned."
De Jonge announced last week that he wanted to accelerate the Covid-19 vaccine booster campaign. By the end of January, all adults who wish to do so must have had the opportunity to get an additional vaccine shot. But that date may not come soon enough, given the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
"If it is necessary to further slow down the virus, to be able to lower the wave that you can expect ... if necessary, we will take the appropriate measures," he said. De Jonge would not speculate on the level of necessity, nor the type of measures under consideration. The OMT's guidance will help determine whether it is necessary, he said.
The current measures in the Netherlands include the primary school holiday beginning this weekend, one week earlier than originally scheduled, and closing after school care next week. Daycare centers for babies and toddlers were allowed to remain open. All other measures including the evening lockdown were extended to January 14.
If that is not enough to avoid a dramatic surge in Covid-19 hospitalizations, more measures could be implemented. The hospital total dropped below 2,500 for the first time in four weeks, according to data from the LCPS. Though that was 12 percent lower than a week ago, it was still about 5.5-times the figure at the start of October, just after the Cabinet released most coronavirus restrictions. The figure rose up to a peak of 2,848 on December 9, before tapering off.
The average number of daily coronavirus infections was 15,232 during the past seven days, down from an all-time peak of 22,543 set on November 28. That figure was just 1,661, a five-month low, at the end of September.
Thus, all possible measures are on the table, an anonymous source close to the Cabinet told newspaper AD. "But a lot will depend on how solid the data from the OMT is," the source said. "How confident are they about their forecasts?"
Reporting by ANP and NL Times.