North could emerge from coronavirus lockdown sooner, say experts

Groningen before the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: HansRavensbergen via Pixabay
Groningen before the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: HansRavensbergen via Pixabay

The northern provinces of Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe could emerge from lockdown sooner than the rest of the Netherlands because of the low rate of infection in the region, experts say.

The RIVM has described the situation in the north as ‘stable and low’, with the three provinces recording just 15 new cases between them on Tuesday. A handful of municipalities in Groningen, such as Loppersum, have not reported a single patient needing hospital treatment for Covid-19.

Sake de Vlas, professor of infectious disease modelling at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, told Dagblad van het Noorden it was a ‘sensible option’ to consider opening up the northern provinces first. ‘We want to keep infection levels as low as possible through testing and tracing while carefully scaling back the lockdown.

‘In that case it certainly seems to make sense to begin in those regions where the virus is (coincidentally or not) at relatively low levels,’ added De Vlas, who is an advisor to the public health agency RIVM.

The RIVM and public health ministry have said it is too early to talk about a ‘northern exit strategy’, but the Outbreak Management Team told the cabinet last week that it was investigating the options for region-by-region measures.

Information sourced from RIVM

Wuhan unlocking

Different regional approaches have been used in other countries, such as China, where the strict lockdown in the city of Wuhan was relaxed on April 8 while other regions are still subject to stringent controls.

Bert Niesters, professor of medical microbiology and head of the clinical virology department at the UMCG hospital in Groningen, said: ‘We haven’t had a staff member test positive for a week now, which is a good sign. But before you try anything like this you need to know if we have a good picture of potential sources of infection in nursing homes, domiciliary care and doctors’ practices. Only then would I call it an interesting option.

The mayor of Leeuwarden, Sybrand Buma, is also wary of relaxing the lockdown rules in his city. ‘If the government wants to start a second phase in specific areas than we’ll start working on it. But we’re not going to have a separate policy. The risks of the virus are just as great here as anywhere else.’

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