Health Min: New coronavirus measures possible if situation deteriorates
The Netherlands may need to take new coronavirus measures if the situation deteriorates, Minister Ernst Kuipers of Public Health, Welfare, and Sports said in a letter to parliament on Monday. If that happens, the strategy will focus on keeping society, specifically schools and childcare institutions, open for as long as possible.
"For the time being, the dominant coronavirus variant in the Netherlands is Omicron BA.2, which makes people less sick. We are seeing a declining trend in the number of positively tested people, new patient admissions to hospitals and ICUs," Kuipers wrote. "However, the RIVM indicates that we must take into account a resurgence. For example, the new variants BA.4 and BA.5 are on the rise, and predictions indicate that they may soon become dominant in the Netherlands."
Kuipers said there was no clear indication that the new viral variants are more pathogenic than BA.2. However, he cautioned that it could lead to increased pressure on the healthcare system, especially if it causes a higher absenteeism rate in the sector.
A top priority is keeping schools and childcare institutions open. If the government needs to take measures to curb the spread of future coronavirus outbreaks, closing physical education is "at the bottom of the pile" and will only be considered if the pupils, students, and staff are in "immediate danger," Kuipers said.
The Ministry of Public Health is taking into account that a future variant of the coronavirus may require another round of vaccinations. The Netherlands will keep enough vaccine doses available to "offer the entire Dutch population a repeat vaccination," Kuipers said. But he added that vaccines need to be adjusted for new variants. "In this case, there could again be a shortage of vaccines because the production capacity of these new vaccines in the first phase may be too low to meet (global) demand."
Health service GGD can currently vaccinate 300,000 people per week. If necessary, the GGD can expand that to 500,000 jabs per week within three weeks and 1.5 million per week three weeks after that.
Testing by health service GGD will only be scaled up if self-test kits are less accurate in detecting new variants. The GGD can scale up to provide up to 15,000 tests per day within two weeks, and boost that to 100,000 tests per day three weeks later.
The Health Minister said that keeping society open requires an "integrated and preventive approach and is our shared responsibility." Severe increases in infections and hospitalizations will require specific action in the healthcare sector, more vaccinations, and the possibility of new measures affecting society.
What that will look like for businesses is not yet clear. Things like health checks, walking routes, cough and splash screens, and social distancing are workable measures for many sectors. "The Cabinet will continue to discuss this with the sectors and investigate the legal basis of the coronavirus access pass," Kuipers said.
Kuipers said that monitoring the pandemic has shifted from large-scale testing to sewage surveillance at over 300 sites across the Netherlands. Since the focus is now mainly on self-tests, the sewage investigation gives a more accurate picture of the presence of the virus. The health authorities are also monitoring how frequently people report symptoms of Covid-19.
The Cabinet also appointed former GroenLinks MP Jolande Sap to head up its new Social Impact Team (MIT), which will advise the Cabinet on how its coronavirus policy can affect society and the economy. Kuipers praised her work with different social organizations and companies and said she could "bridge the gap between the different perspectives" that the MIT is tasked with analyzing.
"If it appears that measures need to be taken or adjusted, the Ministries involved will ask the Outbreak Management Team and MIT for advice in parallel, based on a proposal from the Cabinet about which measures may be taken. "The requests for advice to the OMT and MIT will contain the same proposal but will focus on different areas of expertise," Kuipers explained.