De Jonge warns there could be more restrictions before Christmas
Health Minister Hugo de Jonge has warned that the Netherlands could face additional coronavirus restrictions before Christmas if the Omicron variant spreads at a worrying rate. The Outbreak Management Team (OMT) are set to publish their advice on the matter on Friday.
Growing concerns about spread of Omicron in the Netherlands
In the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer) on Thursday, De Jonge made sure to warn his fellow MPs that they might be seeing each other again before the end of the year in order to debate new restrictions, as it’s possible additional COVID-19 measures may have to be introduced to curb the spread of Omicron.
De Jonge once again emphasised what he and Prime Minister Mark Rutte had also said at the press conference on Tuesday: the country must be prepared to face a wave of the new Omicron variant. "We still don't know a lot about the new variant," De Jonge said.
The OMT will publish additional advice on the subject of the spread of Omicron in the Netherlands on Friday. While nothing is certain, it’s possible the latest advice could lead to a tightening of coronavirus restrictions next week.
What do the experts know about Omicron so far?
Projections for the Netherlands show that Omicron is expected to become the dominant COVID-19 strain by early January. But what De Jonge says is true - medical experts all around the world have warned that they don’t yet know enough about the variant to be able to assess the danger it poses to public health.
So far, studies have revealed that the most recent coronavirus mutation is less receptive to vaccination, meaning it’s highly contagious, even among groups who have already built up immunity against the virus. It’s spreading pretty quickly, with figures from the UK and Denmark showing the number of Omicron infections doubles every two to three days.
Whether or not it’s a more dangerous variant remains to be seen; data from South Africa initially suggested Omicron patients suffered very mild symptoms, but doctors in Denmark worry the hospitalisation rate is similar to that of other variants in the past.
GGD working to keep up with demand for boosters
One thing doctors appear certain about is the efficacy of booster shots against the spread of Omicron. On Wednesday, chairman of the National Institute for Public Health and Environment (RIVM), Jaap van Dissel, said booster shots can significantly increase the level of protection offered by the various vaccines.
“That booster is what it's all about now,” Van Dissel told the House. “The booster will determine to a large extent how many additional measures we will have to take.” Both he and the cabinet have emphasised the importance of booster shots in the battle against Omicron - and COVID-19 as a whole. “I think right now the call is mainly: booster, booster, booster,” Van Dissel said.
Since De Jonge announced the acceleration of the booster campaign on Tuesday, the GGD has struggled to keep up with the sudden increase in demand for booster appointments. Around 9,5 million jabs are expected to take place over the next six weeks, and the municipal health services are working hard to expand their vaccination capacity, opening additional vaccination centres across the country.