“We need to learn to live with the virus.” This week it was one of the first statements by the new Minister of Health, Ernst Kuipers. For the time being, the Netherlands is not ready for that, despite the easing of the current hard lockdown.
Lately, more and more criticism of the corona measures has been heard and often pointed out to our neighbouring countries: why can you go to a restaurant or the cinema just across the border? The countries around us seem to have much less difficulty with the infection rates going up like a rocket. How do they deal with the omikron variant?
In Belgium, there is no lockdown, but measures have still been taken that seem to be the norm in the Netherlands for a while. For example, you have to wear face masks in many places, working from home is mandatory, nightclubs are closed and public in sports competitions is not allowed. The most recent measures were put in place just before Christmas.
The difference is mainly in the IC capacity, which is much greater in Belgium. The Belgians have 2000 beds on more than 11 million inhabitants. In the Netherlands, there are 1150 beds out of more than 17 million people. Belgium is also further with the booster campaign. “If we get nervous in Belgium, it is already pure panic in the Netherlands,” virologist Marc Van Ranst said earlier. “If there were more IC beds in the Netherlands, there was probably no lockdown now.”
In addition, a discussion has erupted in Belgium about treating corona like the flu. Van Ranst thinks that is possible after the current omikron wave. By that, he means that we do not have to take a laundry list of measures with every new wave – assuming omikron is less sickening. Still, a double flu season is still intense, he says. “We have to mentally prepare that we can have twice as many deaths, but we will not put the whole society on stilts for that.”
Fellow virologist Steven Van Gucht, the face of the corona press conferences in Belgium, does not dare to draw that conclusion yet. Now there are still corona measures, but in a flu season that is not the case, so it is also difficult to consider corona as a flu already, argues Van Gucht. Nevertheless, according to him, it will happen one day “That will be a gradual thing, but not after the omikron wave.”
The weather is different in Spain. There are relatively few measures nationwide. Spaniards also have to go outside face masks, but the different regions decide for themselves whether to set restrictions. For example, you need to show a QR code in the hospitality industry in some regions.
In Madrid, where correspondent Rop Zoutberg sits, there are hardly any restrictions, except the capacity in restaurants. There, above all, the pressure of entrepreneurs plays a role in decision-making. “The hospitality industry in particular was extremely important here last year for the re-election of the regional president. She saved the sector and even bottles of wine with her label were sold. The tendency to close the hospitality industry is very small here, partly because there is really a lot of life in cafes and restaurants, unlike in the Netherlands.”
Where the flu discussion in the Belgians is still stuck at virologist level, the government in Spain has already expressed a desire this week to ‘creep ‘corona. Spain is at an advanced stage with the development of a new monitoring system for the coronavirus, whereby from now on no longer being tested every day, but certain health centres and hospitals have to detect waves of infection with samples.
That system should be introduced later this year. The plan has loosened a lot in Spain, says Zoutberg. “You notice that doctor organizations are facing each other here. They say, “The government is very enthusiastic, but they lack enough information to be enthusiastic. For that, we still know too little about the effects of omikron. ‘”
At our eastern neighbours, the limit of 80,000 new corona infections has been crossed in 24 hours for the first time this week. Just like in Spain, the Länder themselves are taking measures on the basis of what is agreed nationally. It seems that the national government will be making additional measures possible at the end of this week.
There will probably be a 2G plus policy for restaurants and cafes. This means that in addition to showing a vaccination and recovery certificate, a negative corona test is also mandatory. The latter does not apply to people who have already had their booster shot.
In Germany, IC capacity plays a major role. Nowhere in Europe are there (per 100,000 inhabitants) more beds than in Germany. Problems are now expected when offering corona tests, because there are so many infections. The government is also concerned that many people are coming home sick and that critical occupations are understaffed.
The new German government is further planning to introduce a vaccination requirement, but thatplan has yet to be fully worked out. Originally, Chancellor Scholz wanted the duty to apply by March at the latest, but that is most likely no longer feasible. That’s the most important discussion at the moment, says correspondent Charlotte Waaijers.
“There is also division within the government. For example, not everyone within the liberal FDP is in favour of an obligation to call, because the party is usually opposed to restricting freedoms.” Then it is also unclear when it will be voted, says Waaijers. “It only takes and it only takes. Opposition party CDU/CSU wants the government to come up with a proposal. But the government wants parliament itself to be free to come up with different proposals. And next month the parliamentary month will be even shorter due to carnival, so there is also less time to get started with it.” The vaccination obligation will probably be voted for the first time at the earliest March.
In Denmark, the number of corona infections is still high, but the pressure on health care is decreasing. That‘s why the country will relax further next weekend, says correspondent Rolien Créton. “The cultural sector is reopening, such as museums, cinemas and theaters. There are measures such as showing the corona pass and wearing face masks. Places where many people gather, such as nightlife and stadiums, stay closed.” Restaurants and shops have remained open despite the omikron variant.
The situation in hospitals is under control. “That’s not only because omikron is a milder variant, but also because of the vaccination rate. About 55 percent of Danes have already had a booster shot.” Denmark has also already approved the fourth jab for the vulnerable. They can already get that jab from this week.
Like Denmark, the United Kingdom is ahead of the rest of Europe. “At a national level, the number of infections is falling and medical experts and politicians are increasingly expressing optimism and hope. They wonder if this could be the beginning of a new phase, in which the virus is milder and less sickening. More and more prominent people are saying that the peak is now over,” says correspondent Fleur Launspach.
According to Launspach, the United Kingdom has long been the motto that people ‘must live’ with the virus. There too, the thought would be that the situation is slowly changing from a pandemic to an endemic, just like in Spain. In the United Kingdom, many people have been vaccinated and currently few corona measures are in place. In some places, people have to wear face masks, otherwise people have to work from home if they can. “Now there is even talk about the possible release of those, and therefore all, measures at the end of this month,” says Launspach.
The number of people in intensive care and ventilator is falling, but hospitals are still struggling. This is also because many staff fall out because they are infected with the coronavirus. “Last week, there was talk about the overturn of NHS, the UK health care. But the NHS is also cautiously optimistic.”
In addition, the British government announced today that the isolation period will go from seven to five days. According to Launspach, this was done with a view to the economy, but also to cope with the workforce – for example in healthcare – for example.