The Netherlands: Lockdown until March if Covid hospitalizations don't fall; Restrictions likely through summer

AMSTERDAM - If the number of coronavirus-related hospitalization continues to decrease at its current rate, the Netherlands will have to be in the current lockdown until early March at least, the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) said in its 95th advice to the government on Wednesday.

For measures to be relaxed, there must be fewer than 40 Covid-related hospital admissions and 10 intensive care admissions per day. Over the past few weeks, the number of hospital and ICU admissions stabilized, even showing a decrease this week. At this rate, the relaxation threshold will not be met until March. Due to flu season, it may even take longer, the OMT said.

Amsterdam UMC virologist and OMT member Menno de Jong said restrictions could continue even further. “Based on the knowledge we have today, I think that the restrictions will definitely last throughout the upcoming summer. Only when we have vaccinated all the vulnerable people, are we able to relax the measures,” he told Het Parool.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge updated Parliament on Wednesday regarding the vaccination strategy. He said that current projections show that the medically vulnerable and everyone aged 60 and up will be vaccinated by July 31.

The highly contagious B117 strain of the coronavirus is also starting to gain a foothold in the Netherlands. About 100 people tested positive for this strain of the virus, which was first identified in the United Kingdom. Over a third of the B117 cases are in the municipality of Lansingerland, where contagious teachers are believed to have passed the virus on to children, the OMT said. 

The team of experts expect that more cases of the B117 strain will start popping up in the Netherlands soon. Experts largely agree that the B117 strain is more contagious than the more common variant found in the Netherlands. Some scientists believe that the sharp increase in infection numbers in the UK could also be linked to the loose regulations the country had until mid-December.

De Jong does not see the new mutation as a “pandemic within a pandemic”. He said, “If it had not been for the British variant, only the primary schools might have opened earlier. Schools are remaining closed for now as a precaution to study the role of children in the spreading of the virus.”

The full OMT said in its advice that it will reassess the situation in two weeks, and only then give advice about whether it is safe to reopen primary schools and childcare facilities. This will be after initial results of a study on the inhabitants of Lansingerland to determine the spread of B117. The study is being carried out by Erasmus MC, the Rotterdam regional GGD office, and the RIVM. 

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