Outbreak team to discuss lockdown, Omicron infection surge on Friday
Members of the Outbreak Management Team will meet on Friday to discuss their next set of advice about how the coronavirus pandemic should be handled in the Netherlands. Their policy statement will be shared with Dutch political leaders, who will then have to decide if the current restrictions are still an appropriate response. The fourth Cabinet of Prime Minister Mark Rutte is set to be sworn in on January 10, and the lockdown was originally planned to expire at the end of the day on January 14.
An average of 14,800 people tested positive for the coronavirus each day leading up to Rutte’s December 18 announcement that the lockdown would be strengthened. That has since gone up to nearly 19,000, with over 24,500 infections reported on both Wednesday and Thursday. The new infection surge coincides with the spread of the Omicron variant, which has been dominant in the Netherlands for over ten days, and in Amsterdam for more than two and a half weeks. While infections in the entire Netherlands have jumped by 50 percent in the past week, diagnosed cases among residents of the capital have doubled to 1,576 per day.
OMT member Marc Bonten said earlier this week people should not "hold out too much hope" that there will be a quick end to the lockdown. He said an extension into the end of January is more likely, followed by a controlled, step-by-step easing of the lockdown. Bonten was hopeful that he and his colleagues would be able to discuss the latest data about how pathogenic the Omicron variant is, so they can determine if a sharp rise in infections will lead to a corresponding rise in Covid-19 hospitalizations.
Marion Koopmans, a prominent virologist and a member of the OMT, also noted that the coronavirus has been spreading despite the lockdown, and that the rate of increase will depend on what the Cabinet does next. It emerged this week that the OMT expects this to increase even further, peaking around the end of January, because of the decision to reopen primary and secondary schools on Monday, the scheduled end of the winter holiday period. The OMT was in favor of closing schools an additional week before the break, and then opening them as scheduled, but keeping higher educations facilities closed for a longer duration. In adopting the advice, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge acknowledged that the Cabinet’s decision was a calculated risk.
Covid vaccine booster campaign progressing
By the end of the month, the Netherlands will be closer to completing the first phase of its Covid-19 booster vaccine campaign. All vaccinated adults are able to schedule a booster jab, provided they have not been infected with the coronavirus in the past three months, and that there last vaccine dose was administered more than three months ago.
Just under 40 percent of adults received a booster shot by the start of Thursday, and about 86 percent of adults completed the initial course of vaccination. The Netherlands wants everyone to be able to get a booster jab by the end of the month, but the OMT estimated about 10 percent of vaccinated adults do not want one. "We are in lockdown to win time to give people booster shots. If you don't vaccinate now, you are not using the time wisely," said vaccine researcher Anke Huckriede from the University of Groningen.
The Netherlands is also planning three more rounds of booster shots if needed, out of concern that the jab will not protect people as well within a few months’ time. “That doesn't look great. Ultimately, we may need a specific Omicron vaccine," Leiden UMC vaccine researcher Ben van der Zeijst said.
International travelers bringing coronavirus back to the Netherlands
Also this week, the OMT remarked on the “large increase in reports of positively tested persons who have recently traveled to the Netherlands from abroad.” It recently said that everyone who comes to the Netherlands from abroad should take a self-test immediately after arrival, and repeat this after five days.
A total of 7,413 recent travelers tested positive in the Netherlands during the seven-day period ending the morning of January 4. That was three times the weekly average reported since September 20.