There must have been a breath of relief last week, at the Ministries of General Affairs and Health. After a month of unexpectedly bad corona news, the tide seems to have turned, the tone of the RIVM’s weekly press release was somewhat optimistic again.
The peak in the number of hospital admissions seems to have been reached – in recent days there were about 700 corona patients in hospital on an average day, but it is no longer rising. The Outbreak Management Team (OMT) expects the number of new patients to fall further during the week, writes chairman Jaap van Dissel in an advice to the cabinet. The number of admissions has therefore remained relatively limited – last winter the hospitals had 2,700 corona patients at their peak.
In addition, the number of positive corona tests has almost halved: in the past seven days there were an average of 3,000 positive tests per day, last week there were more than 5,300. This rapid decline is partly due to fewer people being tested, but that does not explain the complete decline: a smaller percentage of the number of tests taken was positive, although the decrease was more cautious: from 13.6 to 12.4 percent. The peak in the percentage of positive tests also seems to have been reached.
The wave was turned with a relatively minor intervention compared to the previous waves – on July 9 the nightlife in the catering industry was closed. That was, Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD) said at a press moment on Monday, “the lesson of June 26”: when the nightlife opened, it quickly led to a large wave of contamination. Large-scale events cannot take place for the time being, he therefore announced. One-day events are possible from mid-August, with a maximum of 750 visitors who have a vaccination certificate or can submit a negative corona test of no older than 24 hours.
That seems like a gamble: the OMT did not dare to say in the latest advice that was published on Monday evening whether these conditions are sufficient to prevent major sources of infection. The system whereby visitors had to be tested before they were let in somewhere turned out to be not watertight – for example, about a thousand infections were found after a festival in Utrecht. About a third of them were probably already infected before the festival started, the OMT says, but was able to enter anyway.
This may have been due to the length of time that elapsed between taking the test and the festival: then a negative test was allowed to be 40 hours old. The question, says the OMT, is whether the reduction to 24 hours is sufficient to make events possible. The OMT also points out other possible causes for the major outbreaks, such as the more contagious Delta variant, which is now responsible for 95 percent of the infections, according to a sample of the RIVM.
Before large multi-day events are possible again, the infection pressure must have decreased further, the OMT says. Despite the rapid decline in the figures, this will probably take a while: the number of infections rose so quickly that the Netherlands is still in the danger zone for a while. For example, the Netherlands is still red on the map of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, on which other European countries base stricter rules for travelers.
A green color is only possible if the percentage of positive tests falls below 4, which is still out of reach for the time being. Germany, among others, has already made stricter requirements for travelers from the Netherlands: everyone crossing the border must be fully vaccinated or have a recent negative test.
Incidentally, the Netherlands is not the only country that colors red on that map. Spain has been dealing with relatively high contamination figures all summer and the number of positive tests there has hardly fallen. Curfews have been reintroduced in some regions, as in some parts of Greece, which is also faced with a rising number of infections. France is also dealing with a new wave of infection, partly due to outbreaks in tourist resorts and a relatively low vaccination rate.
Correction (August 3, 2021): An earlier version stated that 700 Covid-19 patients are hospitalized per day. But there are a total of 700 people in the hospital. It also stated that last winter, at its peak, about 2,700 patients were admitted daily. But that was also the total number. That has now been adjusted.