Friday 10 July 2020

Coronavirus: why are there so many cases in Noord-Brabant?

Washing your hands is key to controlling the virus. Photo: Depositphotos.com

Some 134 of the 321 known coronavirus infections in the Netherlands are in Noord-Brabant province, and residents who can work at home are now being urged to do so in an effort to halt the spread.

Since the weekend, the RIVM health institute has been carrying out tests on all hospital staff who have a cough, a cold or a temperature in an effort to find out how widespread the virus is in the province.

But why is Noord-Brabant affected so much worse than the rest of the country? Microbiologist Marc Bonten told the Telegraaf there are several reasons why the province could be the Dutch hotspot.

For example, he said, the southern part of the country had a later half term holiday than the rest of the country. ‘If you then went to northern Italy, you would have a bigger chance of picking up an infection than in the previous week,’ he said. ‘It could also be that a relatively large proportion of people from Brabant go there on holiday.’

The Italian government has put the entire country on lockdown in an effort to get the spread of the virus under control.

Carnaval

The carnival celebrations may also play a role, virologist Marion Koopmans said. ‘All you need is one infectious person in a crowded cafe to spread the virus,’ she said. It is also likely, she said, that it is people with only mild symptoms who are spreading the disease.

‘People think that they are tough and can deal with it,’ she said. ‘But if they are in a busy place or if they cough now and then, things can go very wrong.’

Several of the early cases in the Netherlands had a Tilburg carnival link.

Handshakes

Prime minister Mark Rutte on Monday evening stressed the need for everyone to follow simple hygiene rules, and introduced a ban on shaking hands.

‘Like last week, we are still in the containment phase,’ Rutte told reporters. ‘Our aim is to remain in this phase for as long as possible.’ Rutte also urged employers in Brabant to try to spread the working day, to minimise the number of people in offices at the same time.

Too lenient or too strict

Patricia Buijning, an epidemiologist at Utrecht’s UMC teaching hospital, told broadcaster RTL that the RIVM’s approach up to now has been the right one. ‘Every measure has to be appropriate to the situation,’ she said. ‘But the dividing line is a narrow one. People will always think you have been too lenient or too strict.’

But some measures, like taking your temperature every day as urged by the prime minister of Singapore are fairly pointless, she said.

‘Not everyone with coronavirus has a temperature and you are creating a false sense of security,’ she said. And taking the temperature of everyone arriving at Schiphol airport would be ‘totally pointless’, Buijning told the broadcaster.

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