Are we stricter than neighboring countries? ‘Netherlands is already doing a lot’

The world is bracing for omikron. In countries where the virus variant spreads the fastest, infection rates go through the roof. Governments are exploiting each other with extra measures.

In the Netherlands, OMT says: enter a strict lockdown to slow down omikrons advance. Tomorrow, there will be an emergency consultation from the outgoing cabinet. What can we expect, looking at countries around us? Are additional interventions indeed necessary?

โ€œYou dont stop omikronโ€

โ€œThe Netherlands is already doing a lot,โ€ says Marc Van Ranst. The prominent Belgian virologist believes that we are already doing well with the current measures. โ€œWith your evening closure, you avoid hundreds of thousands of people seeing each other. Of course, that helps with a pandemic and especially during the holidays.โ€

Belgium was the first European country to show up omikron. However, the daily number of infections is still falling, just like in the Netherlands. But: omikron is on a rapid increase. In Belgium, around 8 percent of infections have been omikron cases. โ€œAnd this doubles about every two, three days,โ€ says Van Ranst.

He therefore expects the overall decline to turn rapidly. โ€œWhen that omikron variant takes over, we are going to get a rise again. It is then the question of how fast and how high.โ€

This will also apply to the Netherlands, says Van Ranst. Even in strict measures. โ€œYoure not holding this back.โ€ German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said today, โ€œIm going to assume a gigantic fifth wave.โ€

An important weapon against omikron is the booster prick. But a large proportion of elderly people have trouble making an appointment for their third vaccination:

In Denmark, they are already seeing a rapid increase in the number of infections. Per 100,000 inhabitants, there are 1609 infections daily, the highest number in Europe. At least a third of the cases are omikron.

In that country, too, that share doubles every two, three days. โ€œIn a few days, omikron will be the dominant variant,โ€ says Danish professor Mads Albertsen.

โ€œIm pretty concerned. We see that two pricks dont really protect against contamination. We have a lot of superspreading events. In nursing homes and hospitals, it leads to problems.โ€

It is

not for nothing that the Danish Prime Minister came up with new, far-reaching measures Theaters, cinemas and museums are closing for the time being. Albertsen also says that the Netherlands can be lucky that we already shut down the evening and nightlife before. โ€œThats the best thing you could have done to slow down omikron. In Denmark, we see that omikron is mainly distributed by young people in the nightlife in Copenhagen.โ€

In Belgium, the measures are still relatively mild. Cafes and restaurants are allowed to stay open until 11 pm. However, the Christmas holiday for schools has been extended by a week. Van Ranst: โ€œWe also have the very bad recommendation to keep family parties as small as possible.โ€

A lockdown is not at issue for the time being, the virologist expects. โ€œI think were going to try to sing it out with the measures we have now. And then we hope very much, although you buy little for that, that the omikron variant is less sickening.โ€

Care infarction?
There

are signals from South Africa that omikron disease is indeed milder than delta. Omikron leads to fewer deaths there for the time being. But, Van Ranst notes, it may be that the virus variant behaves differently in Europe, partly because countries have an older population here.

And even if omikron makes patients less ill, an omikron wave can still lead to a care infarction. Van Ranst: โ€œIf a virus is much more contagious, and that is clearly going on now, because of that exponential increase in the number of cases, you can get a lot more seriously ill.โ€

Albertsen agrees. โ€œEven if only a small percentage of infected people get very ill, it is very large numbers that end up in the hospital.โ€

Caring for care staff

Denmark and especially the United Kingdom, the European countries with the most omikron infections, are also concerned about infections among healthcare workers. Hospitals fear a staff shortage due to sick reports. โ€œWhat they are experiencing in the UK transcends everything theyve seen throughout the pandemic,โ€ said German Minister Lauterbach.

Van Ranst does not share the concerns about the care staff. Belgium has more IC beds than the UK and then the Netherlands, and has already largely boosted healthcare staff. โ€œBetween 25 and 35 percent of the overall population has already received that booster shot. We try to do everything we can to spread that omikron wave a little more over time. I dont think were going to stop it, but spreading more could help a lot.โ€

โ€œYou have to be concerned, but panic or anxiety is not necessary. When this goes in the wrong direction again, you have to pull the emergency brake.โ€