RIVM: No new Covid restrictions despite rising cases; NL unprepared for sharp increase
It is not yet necessary to take extra measures against the spread of the coronavirus, Jaap van Dissel of the public health institute RIVM said in a briefing to parliament on Wednesday. The basic measures like regular hand washing and going into isolation if you test positive should suffice, he said. At the same time, the Cabinet's advisory group, the Social Impact Team (MIT), cautioned that the Netherlands is not ready to handle a severe increase in infections and Covid-19 hospitalizations.
According to Van Dissel, the government's thermometer to monitor the pandemic's status is currently at its lowest level. That means the pressure on healthcare and society is limited and likely to remain so for the time being.
Van Dissel stressed that the Netherlands is not yet in a stable “endemic phase” of this pandemic. There is still a lot of uncertainty about the emergence of new variants, how much immunity has been built against the coronavirus, and how long that will last.
On Tuesday, the RIVM reported that the expected autumn wave of coronavirus infections may have started in the Netherlands. Although there were fewer than 400 patients with Covid-19 in Dutch hospitals on September 9, that figure rose significantly in subsequent days. Just in the past week, the number of patients jumped by more than a third to 631. The percentage of those patients needing intensive care remained low at 35, though that figure also rose by ten in a week. Hospitals admitted 34% more patients with Covid-19 on average over the last seven days compared to the week before. That includes 117 new hospital admissions on Tuesday, the most in nearly two months.
The surging hospital data coincides with a rise in coronavirus particulate matter found in sewer water, the rising basic reproduction (R) value that models the spread of the coronavirus, and the number of infections diagnosed by a healthcare facility. The latter jumped towards a seven-week high, rising by 39 percent, far outpacing the 27 percent increase in testing at the GGD.
The country is not ready for another rapid coronavirus outbreak
Jolande Sap, the chair of the MIT, warned that the Netherlands has not adequately prepared for the continuation of a sharp increase in infections over the next six months. At the same briefing Van Dissel attended, Sap said that it "cannot be ruled out that those scenarios will happen."
Sap said that the government should continue to keep coronavirus access passes as a legal option to impose on the public if the situation spirals out of control. In the past, the access passes were distributed based on vaccination status, prior infections, and test status. The passes were used to enter a variety of locations, like bars, restaurants, museums, and events, depending on the state of the coronavirus pandemic in the Netherlands.
She also said that the government was not placing enough consideration on people who may be impacted by a tightening of measures, such as young people, and people who have had difficulty becoming a part of the workforce. She also said that politicians need to better debate the ethics of the Cabinet's decision-making, "such as the trade-off between saving lives immediately, and protecting long-term quality of life."
Unenthusiastic vaccination turnout; Face masks should return, experts say
Figures from the RIVM show that people who got their Covid-19 vaccinations and a booster shot are 47 percent less likely to require hospitalization than people who skipped the booster shot and just got the repeat shot. After the repeat shot, people are 22 percent less likely to end up in the hospital with a coronavirus infection. The chance of needing intensive care is also smaller.
Given the increase in infections, especially among people over the age of 70, it is a “good time to start vaccinating again,” Van Dissel said. The Netherlands started the latest round of coronavirus vaccinations, using updated Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that offer better protection against the Omnicron variant, last week.
Turnout for the new vaccination round has been low, with fewer than 16 percent of people over 80 receiving a jab, though some may not be able to get a new vaccination because of a recent infection. “You see that people are less interested in a repeat jab when the extra shot is sensible,” said virologist Bert Niesters to the Telegraaf. “It is especially so if you have an underlying condition or you are older.”
He said it is clear that the coronavirus is not gone, particularly since the current Cabinet has not recommended any further measures to slow the new wave of infections. “With the current increasing figures, I would think it would be wise if there were a new emphasis on wearing face masks in busy places, such as in supermarkets, public transport, and in line at Schiphol,” Niesters told the newspaper.
“This is already normal in other countries such as Germany. Together with good hand hygiene, this helps to limit the spread.”
Radboudumc internist and infections expert Chantal Bleeker-Rover agreed. "Wearing a mask over the mouth and nose is much more effective than measures, such as extra cleaning, placement of splash screens, and creating walking routes," she told Omroep Gelderland. "If people want to protect themselves, such a mask is much more effective than those other things."