Health Minister: Lockdown unlikely to end next week; Press conference expected Jan. 14
Health Minister Hugo de Jonge told reporters gathered in The Hague that residents should not expect the current lockdown in the Netherlands to be significantly relaxed after January 14. A press conference to announce any changes to the coronavirus policy is expected next Friday. "We must remain cautious," De Jonge said on Friday after his last meeting with the Council of Ministers as the country's public health minister.
The average number of daily coronavirus infections in the Netherlands reached an all-time peak of 22,543 on November 28, when the Cabinet implemented an evening lockdown. Despite daily infections falling by a third, the lockdown was expanded on December 18 to include most publicly accessible locations at all hours.
The steady decrease suddenly reversed course during the last week of 2021, as infection figures began to rise with the highly contagious Omicron variant becoming dominant. Just in the last week, the seven-day average increased by 50 percent to 18,932, after two consecutive record-breaking days where infections topped 24,500.
"I think we will soon conclude that the hard lockdown of December was the wise choice," De Jonge said on Friday. "In countries where the rules were less strict, France and the United Kingdom, for example, they are now faced with hospital admissions figures that equate to four times higher than our situation now. In the Netherlands you would then have 600 new Covid-19 patients per day. The healthcare system cannot handle that at all."
The Outbreak Management Team also met on Friday morning to prepare its next set of advice for the Cabinet. An anonymous OMT source told newspaper AD that the experts were grappling with the apparent growth in infections, which could rise higher when primary and secondary school students return to classrooms on Monday. At the same time, they were pouring over information about hospitalization rates linked to the Omicron variant, with early data suggesting it may be less pathogenic than previous variants.
“The high number of infections will lead to an increase in the number of patients, but you don't know exactly how many. It is not the same as with previous waves. There is uncertainty. So you have to look carefully at what is possible," De Jonge said.
The OMT will continue to work on this over the coming days, leading up to a special meeting of the experts on Wednesday. There will then be a meeting with OMT representatives and members of the Cabinet on the following day, with a likely press conference on Friday, AD reported.
De Jonge was unwilling to speculate on decisions that will be made by the Cabinet. Before the next OMT meeting, he will be replaced by acute care leader Ernst Kuipers when the new Cabinet is sworn in on Monday, with De Jonge becoming the Minister for Housing and Spatial Planning.