Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Netherlands Reinstating Face Masks As COVID Cases Continue To Rise


Credit WHO COVID Dashboard


COVID case rates in the Netherlands - as in much of Europe - continue to rise with last week's NL total 43% higher than the week before. With the added threat of the potential return of influenza and other winter respiratory viruses, concerns are rising over hospital and ICU capacities this winter. 

Yesterday the Dutch Government announced that COVID booster shots would be made available - starting in December - for vulnerable members of their population (see Booster vaccination for people over 60 and healthcare workers), starting with those over the age of 80. 

(Translated Excerpt)

The booster vaccination will start in December for all people aged 80 and over who can come to a GGD location themselves. In December, a booster will also be offered to all adult residents living in a care institution, starting with institutions with their own medical service. This means that these people can receive an extra vaccination on top of the two vaccinations they received earlier (or after one shot with the Janssen vaccine), as extra protection against serious illness and hospital admissions. From January onwards, people between the ages of 60 and 80 are vaccinated, with the oldest of that group being the first to receive an invitation. This has been decided by Minister Hugo de Jonge of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS) following an advice presented today by the Health Council.

Yesterday, the Rijksoverheid also announced some COVID restrictions will be reinstated - including the wearing of face masks in some venues and working from home -  due to the rising number of cases in recent weeks. 
Infections must decrease, appropriate measures needed

News item | 02-11-2021 | 19:15

In recent weeks the number of coronavirus infections in the Netherlands has risen rapidly. More and more people are being admitted to hospital. The number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs is now growing and calculations show that numbers could increase further. The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) expects a peak of 500 COVID-19 patients in ICUs this winter.
To ensure that we can continue to provide everyone with the healthcare they need and protect the vulnerable groups in our society against the increased presence of coronavirus, the government is taking extra measures to slow down the rapid spread of the virus. In doing so, the government wants to keep society open as much and as safely as possible. These measures are in addition to the current rules, such as the closing times for hospitality venues and the 75% maximum capacity limit for indoor events without assigned seating.
Greater focus on the basic rules

First of all, it is important that everyone continues to follow the basic rules, even if they have been vaccinated. The better we do this together, the less the virus can spread and the fewer restrictive measures will be necessary. The basic rules have proved successful in preventing infections.

The basic rules:
  • Get tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms: stay at home and get tested by the municipal health service (GGD), even if you’ve been vaccinated.
  • If you test positive, stay at home and avoid contact with others, even if they have been vaccinated.
  • 1.5 metres is a safe distance. Protect yourself and others.
  • Don’t shake hands.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly.
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow.
  • Ensure a good flow of fresh air indoors.
  • Working from home and advice for travel
From 3 November 2021, the current advice for working from home will be tightened. From that date onwards, you should work from home for at least half of your normal hours. We know that working from home is an efficient way to combat the spread of coronavirus. It helps to reduce the frequency of contact between people.

If you do have to go to work or you go on a trip during your leisure time, avoid busy places while travelling and go outside peak hours.
Face masks mandatory in more places

From 6 November, face masks will be mandatory again at more locations. You must once again wear a face mask in all indoor public spaces where coronavirus entry passes are not required. This includes:
  • inside all buildings accessible to the public and in covered areas where coronavirus entry passes are not required, such as:
  • supermarkets, shops, libraries, play and gaming venues, amusement parks, etc.;
  • on public transport, at stations (including shops at stations), on platforms and at bus and tram stops;
  • at airports and on aircraft;
  • when moving around secondary vocational schools (MBO) and higher education institutions (HBO and universities). You can take your face mask off when seated;
  • where necessary, in the case of contact-based professions. This applies to both the client and the service provider.
You must wear a face mask in these places. If you do not, you risked being fined €95.
Coronavirus entry pass required at more places

From 6 November, coronavirus entry passes will be required at more locations. Using the entry pass system reduces the likelihood of the virus circulating at these locations. Only admitting people who have recovered from COVID-19, have been vaccinated or have tested negative considerably lowers the risk of infection for all visitors. Although the system cannot rule out the possibility of becoming infected, it does ensure that people can come together as safely as possible. It also helps to keep most locations open at full capacity.

It is important that all locations where a coronavirus entry pass is required scan the pass and check the person’s ID. All visitors must show their personal QR code and a valid form of ID.

Coronavirus entry passes are required from 6 November:
  • at establishments serving food and drinks, both indoors and in outdoor seating areas, except for takeaway;
  • at casinos;
  • at cultural locations such as theatres, music venues and cinemas;
  • at locations where there is a continuous flow of visitors in sectors where coronavirus entry passes are already required. This includes museums and historic buildings;
  • at events with a continuous flow of visitors who do not have an assigned seat, such as fun fairs and certain sports events;
  • at events such as festivals and live performances, whether or not visitors have an assigned seat;
  • at business events, such as trade fairs and conferences;
  • for spectators at professional and amateur sports matches and competitions. Spectators under the age of 18 at amateur sports matches and competitions are exempt from this requirement;
  • when taking part in organised sports activities from the age of 18. This includes gyms, group lessons, football and swimming. This applies to participants and spectators at all indoor and outdoor sports facilities, including sports canteens and clubhouses;
  • when taking part in artistic and cultural activities from the age of 18, such as music and painting lessons and singing, dance and theatre rehearsals.
Organised activities for children aged under 18 are exempt from the coronavirus entry pass requirement.

You can get a coronavirus entry pass if you are fully vaccinated, have valid proof of recovery or a negative result from a coronavirus test taken less than 24 hours before entry. For people without proof of vaccination or recovery, getting tested for entry will remain free of charge.

(Continue . . . )

As we've seen over the past several weeks, many countries that believed the worst of COVID had passed  - and relaxed most, if not all, of their pandemic restrictions over the summer - are having to reassess the situation. 

While we are still far from the rates seen last winter and spring, global COVID cases, and deaths, have been gradually climbing over the past few weeks (see WHO chart below) despite having nearly 40% of the world's population fully vaccinated.

Whether this is the last, agonal gasp of a dying pandemic - or a sign of more waves to come - is impossible to know.  But either way, we need to get through this coming winter season without overwhelming the healthcare delivery system. 

And that will likely require renewed pandemic precautions in the months ahead.