OMT: New coronavirus mutation is spreading, keep schools closed
The most recent advice published by the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) on January 17 advised the Dutch government to keep the current coronavirus measures in place - and potentially introduce new ones - and not to reopen primary schools before the end of January. Schools will therefore remain closed until February 8.
Latest advice from the OMT experts
The OMT's advice revealed serious concerns about the spread of the highly contagious “British” variant of COVID-19. According to the experts, the R-number of the new strain is 30 percent higher than the R-number of the “original” virus.
They also predict that around 10 percent of patients suffering from coronavirus in the Netherlands are actually infected with the new strain - and that this figure could rise to 50 percent over the next month. So far, there have been over 200 confirmed cases of the “British” virus in the Netherlands.
The OMT, therefore, advises that strict measures are required to contain the spread of the new mutation, saying that coronavirus measures are necessary “until we can expect a favourable seasonal effect on the spread, and a herd immunity effect from past infections and vaccinations.” Their advice does not specify which measures should be taken, but they have previously spoken in favour of a national curfew.
Dutch primary schools to open in February
The latest advice from the OMT also stated that it would be unwise and unsafe to reopen primary schools on January 25. Rutte had hoped to be able to allow some schools to open before the lockdown was fully lifted, but this will not be possible.
Much is still unknown about the new coronavirus mutation, and the OMT highlight the fact that experts do now yet know the role children play in the spread of the virus, or how they are affected if they become infected with it. On Sunday afternoon, the government announced it would follow the advice, and that primary schools and childcare facilities would remain closed until (at least) February 8.
Aerie Slob, acting Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, acknowledged that the situation was tricky for working parents, but that the decision was necessary: “Unfortunately, it is inevitable that schools will not yet be able to open to all students during this lockdown."
Discussions about a curfew are ongoing
The government has held additional meetings to discuss the possibility of implementing a national curfew. Rutte announced his intentions at the press conference on January 12, and a government document has revealed what that curfew might look like.
Rutte met with his cabinet ministers and members of the OMT in The Hague on Sunday. Sources say those in attendance concluded that a curfew was definitely still an option, but that more discussions need to be held as it is such a controversial solution.
The House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer) has spoken out against the introduction of a curfew on numerous occasions. Dutch mayors also fear the measure is too drastic and too difficult to implement. They have asked for concrete evidence that it would be an “appropriate and effective” measure against coronavirus.
The 25 mayors who make up the Security Council are meeting with ministers on Monday to further discuss the possible curfew, and will issue their advice on Monday evening. Acting Minister of Finance, Wopke Hoekstra, has said the government will provide clarity on the issue later this week.