Having coped with the coronavirus pandemic more effectively than many of its European neighbours, the Netherlands could now be facing a crisis – with the level of infection almost doubling in one week, combined with a worrying increase in the reproduction rate of the virus.
Latest figures from the public health institute – now issued weekly rather than daily – show that 987 new cases were recorded during the week July 15th-21st, compared with 534 the previous week, a rise than cannot be accounted for statistically by increased mass testing.
At the same time, the health institute says the reproduction rate rose during that week to 1.29, the first time since March that it’s been higher than 1. A reproduction rate of more than one means that, on average, every patient is infecting more than one other person – and so the number of cases is rising.
Worrying too – as huge numbers leave this weekend for stay-at-home holidays in rural parts of the country – is that young adults in their 20s are now almost as likely to be infected as those over 50, an extraordinary turnaround in the behaviour of the disease.
The figures show that since July 1st, 23 per cent of all positive tests related to people aged 20-29 – compared with less than 7 per cent for that age bracket in March.
During the same period, 29 per cent of positive tests came from the over 50s, down from 73 per cent in March.
Of the total number who tested positive, a significant proportion, 7.1 per cent, had travelled abroad recently.
With 41.2 percent of the new cases, the spike is concentrated in the province of Zuid-Holland, which includes three of the country’s largest cities, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, with a total population of more than 3.7 million, one of the world’s most densely populated areas.
So far a total of 6,136 people have died in hospital from Covid-19, though that figure could increase by as much as 40 per cent with nursing homes included.
With what prime minister Mark Rutte called the Netherlands’ “intelligent lockdown” unwound significantly in recent weeks and a new confidence that the worst might have passed, this sudden increase had sounded alarm bells at government level and among medical experts.
“This is a wake-up call”, warned Prof Aura Timen, director of the National Co-Ordination Centre for Disease Control. “We can’t just carry on like this. We must return to the kind of careful distanced behaviour that worked at the start. Otherwise this virus could beat us.”
The most likely strategy now is regional lockdowns in an effort to deal locally with hot spots. The more widespread wearing of masks, in cafes and bars particularly, is also being considered.