The last time there were as many Covid-19 patients – more than 2,500 – in hospital as there are now, there was a severe lockdown and a curfew. For the time being, the cabinet is sticking to a call to comply with the basic rules (such as ‘testing for complaints’ and ‘work at home unless there is no other option’). For the time being, the cabinet is waiting to see what the effect of those measures will be – that will become clear at the end of this week at the earliest.
But the hope that this pack is enough seems to be dwindling every day. Last week, outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD) and Minister Hugo de Jonge (Public Health, CDA) were still confident in the House of Representatives debate that the measures announced a week and a half ago would deal “a hard blow” to the virus.
But in the days that followed, doubts set in. On Monday, at an inserted press moment, Rutte and De Jonge warned against “lockdown-like measures”, such as closing sectors or reducing group sizes, if the basic measures are not followed better.
The figures still have to fall this week, otherwise action will be taken earlier than on Friday 3 December, the day on which the next press conference is on the agenda. The most concerned ministers will meet on Wednesday to discuss the current situation. Then it will also be about whether the press conference should be brought forward.
These sermons by Rutte and De Jonge are known from the first wave in the spring of 2020, when they regularly emphasized how important the basic rules were. That worked well then, was the idea: compliance was high for months. But over time, the speeches have lost their effect. Also in the summer of 2020, the cabinet hoped to be able to suppress a new wave with strict speeches, but in the end strict measures always turned out to be necessary to actually reduce the number of contacts – and thus infections.
The OMT also seemed somewhat panicked in the latest advice published Monday evening. Chairman Jaap van Dissel even stated in capital letters that better compliance with the measures is “THE ONLY WAY” in which a new lockdown can be prevented.
It remains unclear what the cabinet hopes to see in the coming days
The infection figures are far too high to be controlled by a 2G regime for corona passports, the OMT says, and an acceleration of the booster campaign among the elderly could only relieve the pressure on care in “weeks or months”. Van Dissel also suggested that the OMT would meet earlier than Friday if the situation deteriorates further.
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It remains unclear what the OMT and the cabinet hope to see in the coming days. The increase in the number of hospital admissions will probably continue for half a week to a whole week, even if the measures taken last Saturday work enough. Due to factors such as the incubation period, it usually takes two weeks before measures have an effect on the number of hospital admissions. The increase has been fairly stable in recent weeks, with the number of admissions increasing by about 20 percent every week.
The RIVM found on Tuesday that the increase is continuing “on all fronts”. The number of positive tests also rose sharply: last week 153,957 positive test results were received by RIVM, 40 percent more than the week before.
The number of positive tests is rising rapidly, especially among children between 9 and 11 years of age. In that age group there were more than 2,000 positive tests per 100,000 people last week, in other age groups it is less than 1,000. But the number of positive tests is also still rising among people over 80, who end up in hospital more often.
It also looks at mobility figures from Google and Apple, which show how often people move – an indicator of how many contacts they have. A small decrease had started there, but the OMT already concluded that it was a “modest decrease” – the question is whether that is enough for the “hard blow” that Rutte and De Jonge were counting on.
They hope that after Monday’s speech, people will stay at home more often, which should be reflected in the data from Google and Apple. But De Jonge would not say when the movements have decreased enough to prevent stricter measures.
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The OMT is not very hopeful: research by the behavioral unit of the RIVM shows that only half of the people still adhere to the basic measures. If the infection pressure remains high, Van Dissel warns, measures are needed “with little room for nuance”: as far as the OMT is concerned, a lockdown would be the next step.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of November 24, 2021
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