Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Country that locked down now has its highest case numbers ever

A country that plunged into a snap, strict lockdown when Omicron hit is now seeing a surge in cases with record numbers of daily new infections.

Neighbouring nations have fared little differently but have seen far fewer restrictions on daily life.

Residents of the Netherlands must now be wondering whether all the pain of stay-at-home orders and cancelled or scaled back Christmas celebrations with the family were all worth it.

But the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte is now in a bind.

The lockdown was due to end this weekend. However with cases reaching 35,000 a day on Friday and the seven-day average marching ever upwards there are fears any relaxation of rules could result in an even steeper surge.

“The amount of infections is taking on British proportions,” epidemiologist Marino van Zelst told the website Politico.

That’s not entirely the case – Holland is still faring better on many metrics.

The UK has been recording daily cases around the 140,000 mark and its rate of infection for every million people stands at 2513 according to website Our World in Data.

The Netherlands has an average of 25,300 cases a day which is an infection rate of 1598 cases per million people.

But cases in the UK appear to be falling – or at least slowing – while in Holland they’re shooting on up.

Back in mid-December, as Omicron was rearing its head, countries around the world grappled with how to face the new variant, particularly those with highly vaccinated populations. A further complications was the upcoming Christmas holiday which many people were looking forward too.

Did they lock down, push on through or land somewhere between the two?

Most European nations decided to put in place some restrictions but hold off on a full lockdown.

Not the Netherlands. On December 18, PM Rutte said non-essential shops, bars, restaurants, gyms and many other venues would be will be closed until January 18 at least. Schools would break early. Only two guests would be allowed in homes, increased to four over Christmas.

He said the restrictions were “unavoidable”.

“I stand here tonight in a sombre mood”, he said a week before Christmas.

“To sum it up in one sentence, the Netherlands will go back into lockdown from tomorrow.”

Jaap van Dissel, the head of the country’s Covid response team said the new measures would “buy time” to allow more booster shots and bolster hospitals.

The vaccination rate for over 18s in the country is 86 per cent while 38 per cent have had a booster.

At the time of the lockdown, cases in the Netherlands were actually falling.

A big peak of cases in late November – around 23,000 a day – had prompted a partial lockdown with restaurants, bars and shops told to close early.

On December 18, cases were down to around 15,000 a day.

Following the new, harsher lockdown cases kept falling to a seven-day average of 12,000 a day on December 28.

But since then the trend has all been up with the rolling average now at around 25,500. Perhaps more than the mandated four people came to the average Dutch Christmas dinner?

In Britain where – especially in England – restrictions have been more modest, cases now appear to have plateaued.

However, just like elsewhere in the world deaths have been falling too. At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 around 150 people were succumbing every day to Covid in Holland. Now that’s down to fewer than 20.

The Netherlands’ lockdown has not gone down well with some.

Thousands of protesters defied authorities and gathered in the Dutch capital Amsterdam just after New Year to oppose the coronavirus restrictions, leading to clashes and 30 arrests, reported AFP.

“This is Holland! Power to the people!” chanted one protester.

Similar to other countries, the nation of 17 million is facing pressure on its hospital system with as many is one-in-four staff at a major Amsterdam hospital testing positive.

The government is now looking at allowing asymptomatic staff with Covid-19 to go back on the wards.

The lockdown has come at a difficult time politically for the nation. Rutte has been accused of relaxing restrictions too soon which it’s claimed have fuelled further waves.

Ten months after inconclusive elections, a new coalition government was finally sworn in on Monday.

A socially distanced photo call was held with the Netherlands’ monarch King Willem Alexander.

The first order of business for the coalition headed by Rutte will to be to decide whether to extend the lockdown beyond its planned end date of Friday. Schools have returned but many businesses want the lockdown to fully end.

Van Zelst told Politico, “The government was right to implement a lockdown in December”.

“My fear now, however, is that the government will brew something positive from the numbers again and reopen without promoting other measures such as mask wearing and ventilation”.

Those Dutch citizens dreaming of an imminent end to the lockdown may be just that – dreaming.

On Monday, incoming health Minister Ernst Kuipers said there was “very little space to relax a lot” as he pointed the high infection numbers, reported Dutch news website AD.

Some part of the world have managed to keep Omicron out – just look at Western Australia. But it’s hard border rather than a lockdown has kept the variant at bay so far. And that’s easier to do in WA then the Netherlands which is a small densely populated nation with hundreds of million of people almost on its doorstep.

Holland’s stance comes in stark contrast to fellow European Union member Spain.

On Monday, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the bloc should cease the detailed monitoring of Covid-19 cases and move to a system similar to flu monitoring.

Covid should be treated as an “endemic illness”, Sanchez said, particularity as deaths made up a much smaller proportion of cases compared to the beginning of the pandemic.

The Netherlands’ Covid outbreak team will meet on Wednesday to discuss the country’s next step.

But the likelihood is that now the country is in lockdown it will be hard to majorly adjust settings until the Omicron peak is reached, cases decline and the number of booster shots in arms rises.

It could mean the country ends up have much the same Omicron trajectory as its neighbours, but its neighbours may have managed to avoid an “unavoidable” lockdown.

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