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Ministers look into curfew option and further limits on home visits

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The cabinet has asked its special coronavirus advisory team to look into the option of bringing in a curfew in an effort to further cut down on contacts between people and so reduce the spread of the virus, particularly the new and highly infectious variant first identified in Britain.

Prime minister Mark Rutte urged MPs during Wednesday’s debate on the government’s coronavirus strategy not to block a curfew, should it be on the cards.

As yet, no details of what form a curfew could take have been made public, but the government’s counter terrorism agency NCTV said in December that it could operate from 8pm to 4am and that it would be an offence to be on the streets during that eight-hour period without a valid reason.

Rutte said at Tuesday’s press conference that officials are looking into what additional measures could be taken if the number of positive coronavirus tests fails to reduce sufficiently.

Jaap van Dissel from the public health institute RIVM told MPs on Wednesday that one option would be to impose further limits on visitors, given that half the infections with a known source happen within a household and 36% derive from visits.

The cabinet currently recommends no more than two adult visitors in a 24-hour period. Utrecht epidemiologist Patricia Bruijning told broadcaster NOS that she would like to see a system similar to Belgium, where visits are restricted to the same small, social bubble of people.

The infection rate per 100,000 people in Belgium in the last week of 2020 was four times lower than that in the Netherlands, she said.

(DutchNews)

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Parties warned not to share fake opinion polls circulating online

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Political parties are being warned not to spread fake opinion polls on social media in the build-up to the general election in March. Kieskijker, an online watchdog set up to monitor disinformation during the 2021 campaign, said several smaller parties had shared polls published by A&M Research.

They included the recently formed Splinter and Code Oranje, as well as the Dutch Pirate Party and the pan-European party Volt. Kieskijker said A&M first appeared at the end of December and has no website, business address or registration at the Dutch Chamber of Commerce (KvK).

Its Twitter account has just over 100 followers. It claims to blend existing surveys with its own research from subscribers, but its polls so far have exaggerated support for populist parties such as Geert Wilders’ PVV and JA21, which was formed from the split within Forum voor Democratie last month.

‘It is wholly unclear who or what is behind the Twitter account and the so-called ‘polls’ of A&M Research,’ Kieskijker said. ‘The methods described by the account do not allow reliable polls to be created.

‘The chance that these social media users happen to constitute a good representation of the Dutch voting public is zero.’ Kieskijker urged voters and parties to restrict themselves to reliable polls from official sources such as I&O Research, Kantar, Ipsos/EenVandaag and the Peilingwijzer poll of polls compiled by Leiden University professor Tom Louwerse.

(DutchNews)

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At the current rate, it will be March before restrictions can be eased: OMT

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – If the number of coronavirus infections in the Netherlands continues to decline at the current rate, it will the beginning of March before restrictions can be lifted, according to the government’s Outbreak Management Team.

The team’s experts say in their latest briefing to the government that it will take weeks before the key level of no more than 40 hospital admissions and 10 IC referrals per day is reached.

The statement comes just a day after the government announced the lockdown would be extended to February 9, because the infection rate is still too high, and because of fears about the impact of the more infectious B-117 strain of the virus, first detected in Britain.

The number of hospital and IC admissions has stabilised in recent weeks and there are signs that the total is now going down. Nevertheless, at the current rate, the OMT says, it will be the end of March before there are no more than three IC admissions a day, which would show the outbreak is under control.

The RIVM reported a further 6,148 positive coronavirus tests on Wednesday, up some 600 on Tuesday’s total but still below the week average of just over 7,000. There are currently just over 2,500 people being treated in hospital, of whom 700 are in IC.

In total, 218 people were admitted to hospital in the 24 hours to Wednesday morning, and 46 patients were taken to an IC ward. OMT member Jaap van Dissel, who heads the public health institute RIVM, told MPs on Wednesday morning that the current percentage of positive tests is still too high.

‘It is currently 12% to 13% and should be half that,’ Van Dissel told MPs during a discussion on the decision to extend the lockdown by three more weeks. One option, he said, would be to impose further limits on visitors, given that half the infections with a known source happen within a household and 36% derive from visits.

‘The situation with visits is a weak point in the measures,’ he said. The cabinet currently recommends no more than two adult visitors in a 24-hour period.

Twente

Van Dissel said there are currently 275 infections per 100,000 people in the Netherlands but that Twente, in the south, is a black spot, with up to 450 infections per 100,000.

However, the infection rate has been decreasing across all age groups, apart from young adults aged 18 to 24, he said. He also referred to research from Imperial College London which suggests one in five children with coronavirus have no symptoms.

‘This reinforces the idea that children have a much milder version of the virus that adults,’ he said. ‘The change that they will infect other family members is also less likely.’

Ministers hope to reopen Dutch primary schools on January 25, if infection rates continue to decline and the B-117 strain does not start to spread in the Netherlands.

So far 100 cases of the mutant virus have been identified in the Netherlands, many of them related to a primary school in Lansingerland, where all 60,000 residents are now being tested.

(DutchNews)

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First signs of lockdown effect as weekly coronavirus cases decline by 12%

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Coronavirus cases fell by 12.5% in the first full week of the New Year in what the public health agency RIVM called the first clear sign that the month-long lockdown is taking effect.

In the week to Tuesday 49,398 positive tests were recorded, compared to 56,440 in the previous seven days. The positive test rate was 12.8%, still relatively high but the lowest proportion since the first half of December.

The government is expected to announce a three-week extension to the lockdown on Tuesday evening because infections have not come down sufficiently to allow schools, non-essential shops and facilities such as museums and gyms to reopen.

Although infections have fallen steadily in the last two weeks, the number of patients in hospital and intensive care remains higher than at any time since April last year.

In the last seven days 1,503 people were admitted to hospital with Covid-19, a decline of 18.2%, while intensive care admissions were 11.9% lower at 297.

The RIVM said the decline in positive tests was concentrated in people over the age of 30. In the 18-to-24 age group infections per 100,000 people increased by around 10%.

The reproductive number R, which indicates whether the virus is becoming more prevalent or declining, remains just below 1 at 0.95, as calculated on December 25.

Around the 25 safety council regions the highest concentration of cases was in Twente, where 417.8 in every 100,000 people tested positive last week, while Rotterdam-Rijnmond had the lowest rate at 194.3.

The declining trend was also reflected in the daily figures for Tuesday, with the number of new infections falling below 5,000 for the first time since December 2. A total of 4,986 cases were recorded, 21.3% fewer than a week ago, bringing the weekly average down to just over 7,000.

However, there is little respite so far for the hospitals, who are currently treating 2,640 patients with Covid-19, an increase of 12 since Monday, of whom 695 are in intensive care.

(DutchNews)

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Dutch extend lockdown, look into curfew to contain ‘British’ variant

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – As widely predicted, the Dutch government is extending the lockdown until February 9, and is also considering the introduction of a curfew.

‘Everyone will understand we have no other choice,’ prime minister Mark Rutte told a press conference on Tuesday evening. ‘The figures are not going down sufficiently and now we have to deal with the British variant of the virus.

What we see coming out of Britain and Ireland is heartbreaking and alarming.’ In addition to extending the lockdown, ministers are looking at what else can be done to further reduce the infection rate, Rutte said.

One option is to bring in a curfew, and the Outbreak Management Team – the cabinet’s main coronavirus advisory group – has been asked to report back on that specific option.

‘We do think it could be an effective measure to limit infections via the home,’ Rutte said. Schools and daycare centres will remain closed and secondary school pupils who can attend lessons will now have to keep 1.5 metres from each other, where possible, Rutte said.

The government is also looking into the option of opening primary schools and daycare centres on January 25, but that decision will not be taken until next week at the earliest, Rutte said.

British variant

There are now 100 cases of the British variant of the virus known in the Netherlands, health minister Hugo de Jonge told reporters. ‘We have to make sure that this figure stays as low as possible,’ he said.

To this end, several places where the infection rate is extremely high, including the Charlois district of Rotterdam, Dronten and Bunschoten, near Amersfoort, will also appeal to all residents to undergo a test, De Jonge said.

Lansingerland in Zuid-Holland said on Monday it plans to test around 60,000 people for coronavirus following an outbreak of the British strain of the disease at a primary school last month.

De Jonge urged everyone who has symptoms to have a test, as well as people who are contacted as part of the contact tracing programme. ‘There are 376 locations now where people can take a test,’ De Jonge said.

‘There is capacity to carry out 100,000 tests a day, and only 50% is being used.’

Vaccinations

De Jonge, who has been heavily criticised for the slow start to the Dutch vaccination programme, also said some 35,000 nursing staff have already been vaccinated, and 200,000 appointments have been made.

By the summer, everyone over the age of 60 should have been vaccinated, De Jonge said. By the autumn, the entire population should have had the jab.

Travel

Rutte also criticised the number of people going on foreign trips and said that people should stay in the Netherlands until April, unless they have a serious work or family reason to travel.

Describing holidaymakers as ‘very anti-social’, Rutte said: ‘every foreign trip is a risk for yourselves and everyone around you,’ Rutte said. Rutte also said there are no indications as yet that the general election, planned for March 17, would not go ahead.

Backing

Research published earlier on Tuesday by broadcaster NOS shows that almost four in five people consider the decision to extend the lockdown to be acceptable, and that 72% of people support the government’s strategy for dealing with the virus.

The survey also showed the willingness to be vaccinated has gone up again to 82%. In total, 63% say they will certainly be vaccinated, up from 43% two months ago. People have most confidence in Diederik Gommers, acute care chief and a member of the Outbreak Management Team.

Second on the list is hospital chief Ernst Kuipers and third the regional health boards. Both Gommers and Kuipers have criticised government policy and called for tougher measures.

(DutchNews)

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Lockdown set to be extended, but new coronavirus case total is going down

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch coronavirus lockdown is ‘almost certainly’ to be extended by three weeks, sources in The Hague have told broadcaster NOS.

Ministers met at prime minister Mark Rutte’s official residence on Sunday to discuss the latest situation with key advisors, including public health chief Jaap van Dissel. The government announced in mid-December that schools and non-essential shops would close until the third week in January.

However, because infection rates are still high, a number of experts have gone public in recent days calling for an extension of the lockdown. On Sunday, for example, Menno de Jong, a virologist and member of the government’s Outbreak Management Team, told Amsterdam broadcaster AT5 the lockdown should be extended until at least the end of the month.

‘If the slight drop [in new infections] does not continue and the English mutation gets the upper hand, then we are more likely to see stricter measures,’ he said. Rutte refused to be drawn on the issue at his regular press conference on Friday, but he and health minister Hugo de Jonge are due to hold a televised press conference on Tuesday.

‘The infection rates are still too high and that means people still have too many contacts,’ Rutte said at the Friday meeting. The sources told NOS that the financial support package will be adapted to cope with companies who are hard hit by the lockdown extension.

The plans will be finalised in the coming two days, NOS said. RTL said its sources suggest that the lockdown will be at least three weeks longer but that there will not be any new measures announced on Tuesday.

New cases

The RIVM received 6,657 reports of new positive tests in the 24 hours to Sunday morning, down 708 on Saturday’s total and below the weekly average. The number of hospital patients also continued to decline, although slightly more people are being treated in intensive care units.

Nevertheless, fewer people were admitted to hospital in total – 187 compared with 241 on Saturday. On Saturday, the public health institute RIVM said the South African variant of coronavirus had been identified in a patient in Brabant. It is not yet clear where the patient picked up the virus, but he or she were first tested on December 22.

(DutchNews)

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Coronavirus cases at lowest level for six weeks but hospital numbers still high

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Daily coronavirus cases dropped to their lowest level since the start of December on Monday. The public health agency RIVM reported 5,499 new cases in the 24 hours to 10am, more than 1,000 fewer than on Sunday and 16.2% lower than a week ago.

On average cases have fallen by 11.8% a day in the last week. The number of patients in hospital increased by 67 to 2,628, while 702 patients are in intensive care – a number which has hovered around the 700 mark since the turn of the year.

Another 50 deaths from Covid-19 were reported by the RIVM, compared to a weekly average of 106. The spread of the virus in nursing homes also appears to be slowing, with 852 facilities reporting at least one case in the last seven days compared to 839 a week ago.

In the three days to January 7 12.5% of coronavirus tests were positive, slightly fewer than in recent weeks. The World Health Organisation says countries should be aiming to reduce their positive test rate to below 5%.

(DutchNews)

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Fewer positive coronavirus tests, and hospital admissions fall again

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The strong fluctuations in the number of new coronavirus cases continued on Friday, when public health institute RIVM reported 8,169 new cases, down 1,549 on Thursday.

The Friday total is higher than the weekly average of 7,724 and fewer tests have also been carried out, the RIVM said. Just over 54,000 people have been tested in the past week, compared with 61,000 in the week before and almost 80,000 in the week before that.

The number of hospital patients has also gone down for the third day in a row, dropping by 80 to 2,644 overnight. Of them, 708 are being treated in intensive care.

According to an analysis of the RIVM figures by broadcaster RTL, there is a clear link between the number of family-related infections and the Christmas celebrations. In the week before Christmas, around 23% of cases with an infection source were family related but this had gone up to 35% in the following week, RTL said.

Lockdown

Virologist Ab Osterhause told NPO radio on Friday that the cabinet must now extend the current lockdown. ‘Relaxing it is not on the cards,’ Osterhaus said. Tougher measures, such as a curfew as in Germany, would be an option, he said.

Sources told NOS earlier this week that schools, restaurants, bars and shops were likely to remain closed until the end of January and more places could be shut in an attempt to bring the numbers down.

The cabinet is due to make a decision next Tuesday after consulting the Outbreak Management Team.

(DutchNews)

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De Jonge too optimistic about vaccine delivery dates: NOS

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Some 1.1 million doses of coronavirus vaccine which health minister Hugo de Jonge is counting on for the first three months of the year will not arrive before the end of March, broadcaster NOS said on Friday.

NOS has asked all the companies involved in making vaccines about their likely delivery dates and says several of them will not make deliveries in line with the Dutch planning. According to De Jonge’s schedule, the Netherlands will have eight million doses of vaccine to distribute in the first three months of the year. German manufacture Curevac, for example, does not expect its vaccine will be licenced by the European Medicine’s Agency before April.

According to De Jonge’s planning, the Netherlands will get 600,000 doses in the first quarter and a further 1.6 million in the second. Extra vaccines ordered from Pfizer BioNTech via the European Commission will not arrive before April at the earliest either, and Sanofi says it does not expect to start deliveries of its vaccine until October, at least.

The Dutch schedule includes 5.85 million Sanofi doses between July and September. De Jonge did say in his briefing to MPs earlier this week that changes to the delivery schedule will be possible ‘up to the last minute’.

The Netherlands started vaccinating nursing home and acute care staff earlier this week.

(DutchNews)

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Fireworks ban resulted in fewer injuries but ‘400 is still too many’

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Last year’s New Year fireworks ban has resulted in a 70% drop in firework related injuries, but the number is still too high, injury prevention body VeiligheidNL has said.

Based on figures from both hospital emergency departments and family doctors, some 400 people were treated for fireworks related injuries on the night compared to 1,300 the previous year.

‘We are happy to see that the ban led to a significant drop in fireworks victims. Fortunately, there has not been a significant shift to heavy illegal fireworks. But we still think 400 victims is too many seeing there was a blanket ban,’ VeiligheidNL research manager Birgitte Blatter said.

Two thirds of the injured were younger than 20 and four in five were men. Two in five were treated for burns while the number of eye injuries fell almost by half. Three people had to have fingers amputated on the night.

Although the firework ban was widely ignored, and dozens of cars were set on fire, police and the emergency services were called out some 30% fewer times than during ‘normal’ New Year celebrations, officials said.

The firework ban was declared to stop the emergency services having to deal with firework injuries on top of coronavirus and to prevent more coronavirus outbreaks. Ministers are now under pressure to have the ban made permanent.

(DutchNews)

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