Celebrating Christmas in a group is a major worry, infection chief says

Photo: DutchNews.nl
Photo: DutchNews.nl

The head of public health institute RIVM has told a television current affairs show that he expects Christmas will celebrated in small groups this year.

‘For the past two weeks, the infection rate has been falling slightly, but is stagnating,’ Jaap van Dissel told Nieuwsuur. ‘This means healthcare services are still being hard hit. And although there has been a drop in the number of hospital patients, it is still very slow and difficult.’

By next spring, however, when vaccinations are available, things will change, he said. And if enough people accept the vaccine, then sufficient group immunity may have been built up by the summer to allow life to return to normal, Van Dissel told the programme.

The cabinet is due to flesh out the rules for Christmas and New Year on December 8. If new intensive care admissions was below 10 a day, Van Dissel said he and other experts in the government’s Management Outbreak Team would have recommended changes to the current ‘three visitors at home’ rule.

‘But now the figures have stagnated, we are very concerned about whether this will be the case by Christmas,’ he said.

‘If you celebrate Christmas in a group, then that can act as a catalyst to spread the virus further,’ he said. ‘A week later you have New Year, and everyone who picked up the virus at Christmas will spread it then.  And that means in January you have the potential for a lot more cases.’

In order to reach some level of group immunity, 60% to 70% of the population would have to agree to be vaccinated. But research indicates that around half the population will not do that.

‘This worries me,’ Van Dissel said. ‘I would hope people would embrace the vaccine because at the moment it is the only way to get out of this pandemic.’

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