Health experts ‘very worried’ about new virus strain, extra measures needed

The cafes in Marken are closed because of the lockdown. Photo:

Government health experts say they are extremely worried about the spread of the highly contagious form of coronavirus first identified in Britain, which they estimate is now responsible for roughly 10% of Dutch cases.

It is crucial to now take measures to reduce the risks presented by the mutated form, the Outbreak Management Team say in their latest recommendations to ministers.

Some 200 cases of the B-117 variant have now been identified in the Netherlands, and three people have been found to have the strain first noted in South Africa. But the OMT now estimates some 10% of Dutch cases could involve the B-117 strain and that this could rise to over 50% in February without urgent action.

In essence, the OMT says, the Netherlands is dealing with two variations of the virus, which spread at difference speeds and therefore result in two separate epidemics.

The experts say that measures must be take ‘until we can expect a beneficial seasonal impact on the spread and an effect from groups immunity via people who have had the virus and via vaccinations’.

Ministers have already agreed that primary schools and daycare centres will not reopen as hoped on January 25.

One option still on the table is that of a curfew, possibly between 8pm and 4am, which officials say would further reduce person to person contacts. Around half of the coronavirus infections in which a source is known were picked up in the home.

Not appropriate

However, it is unclear if a majority of MPs would accept a curfew, and several regional safety board chiefs, including Amersfoort mayor Lucas Bolsius, are opposed to the idea.

‘It would not be appropriate at the moment,’ Bolsius told current affairs programme Nieuwsuur. ‘The number of infections is going down, and that includes in Amersfoort.’ He also said he felt it would be difficult for the police and council wardens to ensure people did stay home.

Last week, the OMT said that it did not expect the risk level in the Netherlands could be reduced from ‘very serious’ to ‘vigilence required’ until the end of February or beginning of March.

The current lockdown will run until at least February 9.

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