Partial lockdown in Netherlands falls short as case numbers rise

Rate of infection is rising in all age groups but more rapidly among those of secondary school age

The centre of  Eindhoven in the  Netherlands. Its mayor  closed  shops last Saturday  due to  large crowds. Photograph:  Getty Images

The centre of Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Its mayor closed shops last Saturday due to large crowds. Photograph: Getty Images

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The partial lockdown imposed in the Netherlands two months ago in an effort to mitigate a second wave of coronavirus has not worked, according to latest figures from the public health institute. Rather than a drop, the data shows a 27 per cent rise in new cases in the week to Tuesday.

The institute has described that upward trend as “a worrying increase”, which makes it highly unlikely that Mark Rutte’s government will find much if any scope for a relaxation of pandemic safeguards over Christmas or the new year despite appeals from the business community.

As pre-Christmas bargain-hunters pack shops in all the main cities, epidemiologist Prof Frits Rosendaal said caustically: “You can blame all sorts of things on the virus, but you can’t say it’s going shopping. It’s people themselves who are making those choices.”

The statistics show that 43,104 new cases were reported in the past seven days, compared with 33,949 in the week before. At the same time the daily total stood at 6,187 on Tuesday, 52 per cent higher than a week earlier. And the daily average was more than 6,000 for the first time since November 10th.

The upward trend is partially due to a 23.5 per cent increase in testing. Even so, the proportion of positive tests also rose from 11.1 per cent to 11.6 per cent – still well over the WHO benchmark of 5 per cent, above which testing should be increased and restrictions should certainly not be eased.

The rate of infection is rising in all age groups but more rapidly among children of secondary school age. The figures show 435 tested positive out of every 100,000 aged between 13 and 17, compared to 344 a week ago. The second highest infection level was among 18- to 24-year-olds.

The spread in nursing homes is also worsening: 100 homes recorded a new case last week, up from 77 a week ago.

Intensive care

If there’s any slight element of good news it’s that although hospital admissions increased over the past seven days to 1,229 from 1,007 the week before, admissions to intensive care were down marginally from 183 to 179 and the number of fatalities dropped from 406 to 338.

It’s also possible there may be a delayed impact from the government’s belated decision to make face coverings obligatory – which only came into effect here as emergency legislation on December 1st, making the Netherlands one of the last countries in Europe to respond to urgent WHO advice that changed in June.

With every prospect that the partial lockdown will now continue, the hard-pressed hospitality industry has begun to fragment, with thousands of cafes, bars and restaurants outside the major cities threatening to reopen on January 17th irrespective of the law.