No easement of lockdown until most people over 60 are vaccinated

Prime Minister Mark Rutte, at his press conference on 23 March, stated that the high number of new corona virus cases and the number of hospital admissions leave no room for relaxation of the current corona measures. The Cabinet also announced an extension to the lockdown at least until 20 April, or until most people over 60 are vaccinated.

The current measures, including a 10 pm curfew, not being allowed more than one visitor at a time, and the cafes and restaurants remaining closed, are likely to last for the entire month of April. “Once most of the over-60s are vaccinated, we can really start to open up again,” the PM stated.

According to the government, the plan is for most people over 60 to have their first vaccination by early May, meaning that relaxations lie ahead. Nevertheless, with the recent decision to stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine, the initially proposed schedules are somewhat uncertain at the moment.

Bracing for a fourth wave
The fear remains that if the corona measures are ended too soon, e.g. in late April, it could lead to a fourth wave in June. Currently, the Netherlands is experiencing its third wave, which is projected to reach a maximum of 1500 ICU patients in hospitals at a single time. These projections take into account the different variants of the virus, among them the British variety, which has considerably increased the R-rate in the country.

RIVM leader Jaap van Dissel thinks that the summer’s new wave can be prevented only if the current measures remain in place until 1 June at the earliest, as he presented the RIVM’s models regarding the epidemic to Parliament on 24 March.

No recommendation for easement of lockdown
Relaxing too quickly could ruin summer with a new wave, meaning that the number of patients with corona virus in the hospital could rise to more than 3,000 by mid-June, more than twice as much as the hospitals can handle. Figures show that relaxing the measures too quickly would mean that the infection rate will not decrease from its current high level. And because of this, the lockdown has to be relaxed with extreme care and consideration.

Await vaccinations for over-60s
According to the RIVM’s calculations, if the lockdown restrictions remain in place until 1 June, by that time most people over 60 will be vaccinated. This means a new wave would not hit with such force. We can already see proof of this statement in hospital numbers, where the share of people over 80 has almost halved due to vaccination. Another good sign is the number of infections in nursing homes, which has fallen rapidly, according to De Volkskrant: almost 2,000 infections per 200,000inhabitants in January to less than 200 in March. The number of deaths per day is also on a continuous decline since January.

Despite this good news, the infection rate continues to be dangerous for people in their 40s through 60s, with an increasing number of people of these ages in hospitals. Therefore, Van Dissel emphasizes the importance of sticking to the measures: “The situation is bleak now,” he said, “and we prefer that we can postpone the next wave until more vaccinations have been given.”

Are fast tests the way out?
Fast tests are now available in pharmacies and are in high demand, but Van DIssel is sceptical about their usefulness: “In general, they don’t solve everything.” Although these tests can be helpful, they aren’t exactly a good control measure. Van Dissel explained that the problem is mainly the high number of false negatives that these tests declare.

When a person sees a negative result, they immediately feel free to abandon the strict measures, even if they may in fact be positive after all. “If you then let go of the measures, you naturally have a greater chance of passing on the virus,” says Van Dissel. These actions would not help in keeping the virus under control. All in all, it seems we have no choice but to wait a few months longer, but hopefully we will be able to enjoy a great summer.

Written by Bárbara Luque Alanis