The Netherlands underestimated the coronavirus, expert says

The Netherlands underestimated the coronavirus, expert says

A member of the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) has stated that the National Institute for Public Health and Environment (RIVM) underestimated the severity and scale of the coronavirus up until the end of February.

The coronavirus outbreak in the Netherlands

In an interview with the NRC, Aura Timen, head of the Centre for National Coordination of Infectious Disease Control (LCI) and member of the OMT, revealed that the large-scale outbreak seemed impossible to Western Europe.

Timen recalls speaking about the virus at an Amsterdam symposium on February 21, when coronavirus infections were only just starting to pop up across Europe, and saying the risks of coronavirus were low. Looking back now, she sees she was overly confident. 

The Netherlands had experience with pandemics not that long ago, for example the flu outbreak in 2009, and countries thought they were organised and prepared, Timen says. “We were always able to control every outbreak with source and contact detection, quarantine, isolation and testing. But this outbreak was too overwhelming to contain.”

Lockdowns were seen as historical measures taken to control outbreaks, and the fact that one would be necessary here, like in China, seemed impossible initially. But according to Timen, based on data available at the start of the outbreak, the spread of the virus was much faster than anticipated due to the massive influx of infections from winter sports enthusiasts and the spread during carnival.

The future of the coronavirus

Timen is most concerned that, as people start to relax and travel restrictions across the world lift in time for the summer holidays, many won’t stick to the measures while travelling. She advises that, even if travelling to a country with less strict measures than the Netherlands, it is still best to follow Dutch guidance, just to be safe.

As for whether or not there will be a second wave, Timen doesn’t see any reason why there won’t be one. “This type of respiratory virus, including other coronaviruses, thrives in the winter season. All flu pandemics, including those in 1918 and 2009, had low transmissions in the summer, and returned in the autumn,” she says. 

And if this second wave does come, the time and size of it will be dependent on how well people can stick to the rules. Surveys conducted by the OMT suggest that most people are still understanding and considerate of the measures the Dutch government has put in place, specifically the 1,5 metre distance rule.

Victoria Séveno


Victoria Séveno

Victoria grew up in Amsterdam, before moving to the UK to study English and Related Literature at the University of York and completing her NCTJ course at the Press Association...

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