Sunday 31 May 2020

Ministers meet to discuss corona crisis; cautious optimism on infection rates

Photo: D Nicholls-Lee

Dutch ministers are meeting again on Tuesday morning to discuss the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis, but insiders do not expect any major new measures.

Top of the list of topics is the expansion of the Dutch testing programme and the coming Easter weekend, which is typically one of the busiest in the year in the Netherlands when it comes to tourists.

Despite some pressure on ministers to state they will start to wind down the ‘intelligent lockdown’ after the May school holidays, officials say it is still far too early to present any form of exit strategy.

The number of people dying from coronavirus, hospital admissions and intensive care admissions are all leveling off or declining, which is a positive sign, officials say.

For example, the number of IC patients rose by 25 on Monday, after increases of 25 on Sunday and 36 on Saturday.

‘If this continues, I am very optimistic,’ IC chie Diederik Gommers said at a news conference late on Monday. ‘But I am worried that the numbers could easily mount again to 50 or 80.’

Peak

However the peak in IC admissions is expected towards the end of this month and any relaxation in the rules will lead to a new peak, Gommers warns.

The Netherlands now has 2,400 IC beds available, of which some 500 are reserved for non-corona patients. Some 1,409 Dutch residents are now being treated in intensive care, of whom 37 are over the border in Germany.

The current package of measures will remain in force until April 28, and prime minister Mark Rutte said more clarity will be given about extending them by April 21. Schools will remain closed at least until after the May holidays which finish on May 3 or May 10, depending on the region.

Testing

Hope of a relaxation in the rules is being largely pinned on an increase in the amount of testing in the Netherlands. Capacity is now being quadrupled, although tests will still focus on health service workers. Moves are also underway to up testing for antibodies via mass tests, but this is not yet widespread because of quality concerns.

Health economist Xander Koolman told current affairs programme Nieuwsuur that there are three options open to the government, and that he favours mass testing to trace and isolate everyone with the virus.

‘If you do that well, you will reach a situation where you can open up parts of the country more quickly,’ he said. This, he said, is the best way of limiting economic damage.

Research

Various projects are currently underway to assess the spread of coronavirus in the Netherlands.

The RIVM and blood bank Sanquin are carrying out testing for antibodies, Erasmus University teaching hospital has an ongoing research programme for antibodies and Leiden University is testing patients who come to the hospital for non-corona related reasons, broadcaster NOS said.

The first results from the various projects are due later this month.

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