Coronavirus: what the Netherlands is saying to the UK about ‘Freedom Day’
It was ‘freedom’ – but it was short-lived.
On June 26, the Netherlands relaxed almost all of their remaining Covid restrictions. The Dutch government said they were “no longer needed” due to vaccines, low infection rates and declining hospital admissions.
Covid cases in the Netherlands had fallen steadily to just 35 infections per million people per day by the time it adopted its ‘step four’ measures (for comparison, the UK is currently registering 515 per million per day , but this is already accelerating rapidly).
From the end of June, life in the Netherlands returned to semi-normality.
There was no limit to the number of people who could gather in houses or share a table in pubs and restaurants.
Mandatory face coverings were removed, except in situations where people shared crowded and potentially poorly ventilated spaces such as public transportation.
The ban on the sale of alcohol after 10 p.m. has been lifted and curfews on the opening hours of hospitality and leisure facilities have been dropped.
Cinemas, concert halls, shops, bars, restaurants, stadiums and nightclubs could open with limited mitigation measures.
READ MORE: What more can we – and must we – do to boost immunization among young people?
In the case of restaurants, for example, the seats had to be spaced 1.5 meters (5 feet) apart.
In places where people moved – such as stores and museums – capacity was limited to one person per five square meters, unless the coronavirus pass system was adopted, in which case the places could open to full capacity without distancing or mask.
This domestic “passport” system was mainly adopted by nightclubs and large event spaces where revelers were only allowed to enter if they had proof of vaccination, a negative pre-admission test or proof. of having had Covid.
It didn’t take long for the party to turn sour, however.
In just two weeks, the virus rate in the Netherlands has increased sevenfold.
Nightclubs and discos have been closed, the entry pass system suspended, music festivals and other major public events banned until August 14, commercial curfews reimposed and the public asked to limit Home gatherings to small numbers with physical distance – even if people are fully immunized.
By July 14, its infection rate had practically caught up with that of the UK, with 490 cases per million people per day compared to 515 in the UK.
On Monday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte admitted that the government had eased restrictions too quickly.
“What we thought possible has turned out to be wrong in practice,” he said. “We made a miscalculation, we are disappointed and we apologize for it.”
READ MORE: Warning as a quarter of those under 30 hospitalized with Covid develop complications
The Netherlands is a warning that rushing towards too much freedom, too soon, can backfire dramatically.
By the time it opened on June 26, only a third of its population had been fully vaccinated and the Delta variant was on the rise (from around 10% of Dutch cases on June 14 to 38% on June 28).
We know that people previously infected with non-Delta strains are likely to be re-infected with this new variant, and that people who have received a single dose of the vaccine are only 33% less likely to contract symptomatic Delta-Covid. than those that are not vaccinated.
When the Netherlands opened the doors to their unrestricted bars and nightclubs, they also invited Delta to the party – and now their healthcare system will be facing a hangover.
So far, the number of hospital patients remains low (around 119 from a peak of over 3,300 in March last year), but that number will increase as infections have accumulated in recent years. weeks spreading in hospitals.
As in Britain, overall admissions will likely remain lower than in previous waves due to vaccination, and a larger share of patients will be unvaccinated young people.
READ MORE: Vaccinating children, is it too risky? Or too dangerous not to?
But that doesn’t mean the impact has to be ruled out.
Based on figures from Scotland, around 1.5-2% of people aged 20-39 who test positive for Covid after developing symptoms end up in hospital (the true translation of the infection in hospitalization is likely to be lower once you factor in asymptomatic infections, however).
Between June 9 and July 6, a total of 357 people aged 20 to 39 were admitted to hospitals in Scotland with Covid.
According to a new study, published in the Lancet on Friday with a significant contribution from researchers at the University of Edinburgh, 27% of 19-29 year olds and 37% of 30-39 year olds hospitalized with Covid – even those without pre-existing health problems – suffer from complications ranging from kidney and liver problems to neurological and cardiovascular damage, in some cases long term.
This research was based on patients treated between January and August of last year, well before the emergence of the Delta variant and which separate British studies have shown that the likelihood of being hospitalized with Covid doubles.
Professor Calum Semple, the Lancet Study’s chief investigator and Scottish virologist who sits on UK expert bodies SAGE and NERVTAG, said the work “contradicts current accounts that Covid-19 is only dangerous in people with existing comorbidities and the elderly “.
Focusing only on deaths is also “likely to underestimate the true impact” of the disease on health and long-term care services, co-author Aya Riad said, “particularly among younger people who are more likely to survive severe Covid “.
So far, cases in Scotland are high but stabilizing with almost 54% of the total population fully vaccinated and a slower and more cautious reopening underway.
There is every chance that England’s Dutch-style “Freedom Day”, with its “restriction fire” from face masks to social distancing and long-awaited nightclub reopens, will be held back as Scotland will reach “Beyond Zero” on August 9th.
âLiving with the virusâ should mean agreeing to basic mitigation measures to manage it, at least while the vaccine rollout continues.
Embracing “freedom” just because we wish the pandemic was already over is a doomed strategy.