Netherlands not prepared for Covid-19 outbreak in the fall: experts
With hardly any restrictions in place, the coronavirus seems to have slipped from public consciousness. But the virus is expected to revive in the autumn, and the Netherlands is not prepared, AD reported after speaking to experts.
Parliamentarians are concerned about another coronavirus wave and worry that Minister Ernst Kuipers of Public Health is not feeling the urgency. In a parliamentary debate last week, Kuipers presented his "pandemic preparedness" policy agenda, but MPs say his plans don't feel concrete. “We’ve been waiting for that since January”, PvdA leader Attje Kuiken told AD. Kuiken pointed out that plans like extending the Christmas school holidays to slow the spread of the virus have been floated, but nothing has been arranged yet.
Xander Koolman, Health Economist at the Vrije University in Amsterdam, raised concerns about stagnating progress in improving ventilation in schools. “Schools are a driving force of respiratory infections. So you would say: do something about the air filtering, it costs relatively little and pays for itself quickly. But little happens.” As always, funding seems to be the problem. Shools claim they are not getting enough from the government, while politicians say it’s up to the schools. Koolman cautioned that ignoring the issue of adding better air filtration in schools could lead to another fall lockdown.
There are also concerns about the 25 security regions' approach to infectious disease control not yet being nationally unified. “There is a quartermaster and a plan, but that is still a long way from an applicable approach. I don’t think that new structure will be in place this fall,” Anja Schreijer, former Outbreak Management Team member and former Head of the Infectious Disease Control Department at the GGD Amsterdam explained.
Schreijer fears that the government is not taking the issue of preventative Covid-19 measures seriously enough. Part of the issue lies in funding for GGDs. “The demand is 600 million euros, the Cabinet has promised 300 million.”
Luckily, experts don't expect new coronavirus variants to cause worse symptoms that the currently dominant Omicron variant. “It is evolutionarily unlikely that there will be a variant that is much more sickening than Omicron,” revealed virologist and OMT member Menno de Jong from Amsterdam UMC. But even a resurgence of the current Omicron variant can tax hospital capacity. And a variant more able to evade existing immunity could "cause serious problems, especially in vulnerable people, even if they have been vaccinated," he warned.
Armand Girbes, head of the intensive care department at Amsterdam UMC expects that 200 to 300 patients will end up in the ICU in the Netherlands this coming fall with Covid-19 or the flu.