“We had a bad trial, which we regret and for which we apologize,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said earlier this week. His government regretted having eased restrictive measures against Covid, but had to back down precipitously after a sharp increase in cases, which particularly affected young people who like to go to places like bars and clubs.
On June 26, the government allowed restaurants, cafes and nightclubs to operate almost normally. Major events were also allowed. At that time, the moving average of cases was 653 per day. Three weeks later, that number reached 10,000. A music festival that brought together 20,000 people was identified as one of the sources of contamination.
The sharp increase in cases, however, has not been accompanied by an increase in deaths. The progress of vaccination is contributing to this: those who have taken doses now have less risk of complications in the event of contamination.
Of those affected, the majority were people who had not been vaccinated. One study found that 60% of those infected had not been immunized. The survey, carried out by the Netherlands National Institute of Public Health and Environment (RIVM), succeeded in obtaining vaccination data on 72% of those infected in early July.
The Netherlands has already achieved a good rate of vaccines with the first dose, 82.4%, according to official data. Fully immune people, however, are still at 52.7%. Progressing through age groups and different health states since January 26, doses became available for people over 18 on June 12.
This new wave of the disease has affected young people more often. The case rate among Dutch people aged 20 to 29 fell from 13.2 per 100,000 on July 1 to 200.3 ten days later. In the general population, this average reached 48.9, and now stands at 33.
It is precisely this age group that frequents the most places identified as sources of contamination. The RIVM was able to identify the probable foci of infection for 28% of the confirmed cases between July 7 and July 13. Among them, 37% were in cafes, restaurants and nightclubs, faced with situations such as being infected at home, in contact with residents (28%), receiving visitors (16%), going to holidays (15%) and at work (7%).
With the peak, Prime Minister Rutte announced the return of restrictions until August 14, with a reduction in the opening hours of dining establishments, the closure of nightclubs and the cancellation of festivals and major events.
The population blames both the government and considers these measures necessary, according to a survey by the I&O Research Institute. Most (54%) blame Rutte’s management for the early relaxation. Already 41% believe that there should be a further tightening of the measures and 37% consider them sufficient. The investigation heard from more than 2,000 residents of the country.
Flexibility is not unique to the Netherlands and different countries are moving in the same direction. France, for example, has eased restrictions since June, and so has the UK, which plans a full reopening on Monday (19), even amid a surge in cases.
Israel, which started ahead in vaccination and abandoned measures before, has tightened its belt again, with lawsuits against Covid patients violating quarantine and passing more restrictions on events and celebrations, especially weddings.
The problem with the release seen in the Netherlands, according to Isaac Schrarstzhaupt, data analyst and coordinator of the Covid-19 Analysis Network, which brings together pandemic researchers, is to do so before vaccination coverage, with both doses, does not exceed 75% of the population. The closest country to this is Malta, with 71% fully vaccinated, according to data from the New York Times.
The advance of the delta variant, which is 50% more contagious, has also dampened the optimism of the Dutch government. Currently, the strain already represents 67% of cases in the country. “When a variant arrives in a flexible place and the population who took the two doses is not at 75%, 80% or more, there is this explosion of cases, hospitalizations and even death,” explains Schrarstzhaupt.
He takes the UK as an example, where the Delta variant erupted the longest ago. The curve for hospitalizations and intensive care patients is starting to show a gradual increase, as is that of deaths, although it is lower than at the height of the pandemic.
“It’s not that the protocols don’t work, but you have to think about it when the pandemic is under control, with a mass vaccination to stop the contagion”, underlines Ana Arnt, professor at the Institute of Biology of Unicamp . “We see countries with 40% of the vaccinated population abandoning collective measures.”
Without this blanket, the virus finds pockets where many unvaccinated people are. Studies indicate that applying the first dose does not prevent contagion, but protects the individual from complications of the disease. And the more people who are infected, the greater the risk of the emergence of new variants, because the coronavirus will be able to multiply better. “If it weren’t for the vaccinations, countries would face the same challenges as last year, or worse. There would be a wave of Covid cases, deaths and hospitalizations as we already have seen, “said Schrarstzhaup.