The number of positive corona tests in the past week was about 35 percent higher than in the week before, despite the lockdown. On average, more than 16,000 people tested positive every day, RIVM reported on Tuesday in his weekly figures. This seems to have put an end to the decline in the infection figures that started at the end of November. The share of positive tests also rose sharply, from 23 to 30 percent.
The number of hospital admissions continued to fall, but the decline is slowing down. In the past week, the decline was 14 percent, compared to 26 percent the week before. The decline in the number of IC admissions is also slowing down, with comparable percentages.
All Dutch regions showed an increase in the number of infections in the past week. On average, this concerns 639 persons per 100,000 inhabitants. The highest number was reported in Amsterdam-Amstelland, followed by Kennemerland, Zaanstreek-Waterland and Rotterdam-Rijnmond. Limburg-North had the lowest number of positive test results.
The increase in the number of infections is mainly attributable to people in their twenties, followed by teenagers and people in their thirties. In primary school age, the number of infections actually fell by about a third. “This decrease is a clear result of the closure of schools, combined with the holidays,” says Susan van den Hof, head of the Center for Epidemiology and Surveillance of Infectious Diseases at RIVM. She finds the strong increase among young adults not surprising: “We also saw in previous waves that the spread starts in this group. These are the people with the most social contacts, even during a lockdown.”
Infections in home situations
The source and contact research showed another lockdown and holiday effect: the share of infections during home visits doubled, to 30 percent. About 60 percent of the infections last week took place within the family, and only 4.5 percent at work.
The holiday also shines through in the number of positively tested people who have recently been abroad. In the past week this was 6.5 percent, more than double compared to the previous week. Of these people, almost 20 percent had been in Austria, 13 percent in France, 11 percent in Belgium and 11 percent in Germany. “But that does not necessarily mean that these people have brought the virus from those countries,” Van den Hof nuances. “They may have already had the virus with them, or they may have passed it on to each other within the travel group.” Then this increase would simply reflect that people have been on vacation.
RIVM attributes the rapid increase in the number of positive tests to the contagious Omikron variant of the coronavirus, which has been dominant in the Netherlands since the end of December. In the United Kingdom, this variant got a foothold about two weeks earlier than in the Netherlands. Since then, the number of infections has risen sharply. Two weeks ago, the number of infections per 100,000 inhabitants was comparable to the Netherlands now; At the moment, the United Kingdom has more than double the number of new infections per 100,000 people every day, namely about 1,500.
The number of hospital admissions is also increasing in the United Kingdom, but at a slower rate than during previous waves. Remarkably enough, the IC figures have been stable for weeks. Can we expect that the hospital and IC admissions in the Netherlands will therefore not be too bad? “It’s too early to say that,” says Van den Hof. “Omikron is still a relatively new variant, and it is also expanding in the United Kingdom.”
The first UK figures come from London, a city with a relatively young, diverse population with many people who have been infected before. It is therefore difficult to predict how the virus will behave in the Netherlands, with a different population, different behavior and other measures. “We are still seeing a decrease in the take-up figures in the Netherlands,” says Van den Hof, “but this still largely concerns the Delta variant. We expect an increase in the number of admissions as Omikron reaches the elderly and nursing homes.”
The booster campaign is likely to dampen that increase. In addition, it seems that Omikron is less pathogenic than Delta: lab tests show that the virus infects the lung cells less well and mainly remains in the upper respiratory tract. That picture corresponds with better than expected hospital figures in the United Kingdom, and earlier in South Africa. Yet Van den Hof remains very cautious. “With rapidly rising infection rates, even a lower percentage of serious illness can put a lot of pressure on healthcare again,” she emphasizes. “And it is certainly not just about the ICs.”
Europe Unrest about Omikron, noise about a QR code
Omikron is also causing unrest in the rest of Europe. The number of daily infections is increasing rapidly in many countries. In Spain, for example, the average number of infections rose on Tuesday for the twelfth day in a row. Finland reported the highest number of daily infections since the start of the pandemic on that day: 17,000. The larger European countries now register between 100,000 and 200,000 infections every day. In fact, for the second time since the start of the crisis, Europe is the epicenter of the pandemic. In the week before January 1, a total of nearly 5 million infections were reported.
Like the Netherlands, most European countries have decided to reopen schools. There was also a heated debate. The concerns have not gone away, for example: there is fear of further teacher failure. Partly to prevent the loss of capacity of crucial professions, several countries (such as the United Kingdom, Greece, Spain and Ireland) have meanwhile decided to relax their quarantine rules, from ten to seven or sometimes five days.
The French government is about to make a controversial decision as a result of which the ‘green pass’, which gives access to, for example, catering and gyms, is only valid in the event of a vaccination or cure – no longer in the event of a negative test. Italy will decide on Wednesday about a vaccination obligation for all employees of companies.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of January 5, 2022