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Dutch Prime Minister Announcement Explained, Herd Immunity, and More

On Monday 16th of March, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte addressed the country live on TV regarding the coronavirus (Covid-19). As the situation quickly escalated, Rutte declared that the virus is here to stay and that a large part of the population will get infected. We took a look at his speech, extracted all three scenarios he played out, and tried to explain it. You can find the full version translated into English here.

1. Three possible Covid-19 scenarios in the Netherlands

Following the announcement, The Prime Minister depicted three possible scenarios the Dutch government had considered: 

    1. Trying to maximally control the virus. This means flattening the curve of infections, and gradually build herd immunity to protect the risk groups and avoid a collapse of our healthcare system. 
    2. Let loose of the virus. This would result in an overload of the healthcare system at the peak of contamination, and leave insufficient capacity to care for those in most need. This must be avoided at all costs.
    3. A nationwide lockdown. This approach is chosen by many countries, but experts emphasize that for a lockdown to be successful enough to stop the virus, it would have to last for months, if not years. That would have tremendous consequences for the nation, and there would still be a risk that the virus would resurface when the measures were withdrawn. 

2. What did the Dutch PM decide on?

The Dutch government opted for the first scenario – to limit the spread as much as possible. With this approach, the aim is to not overload care facilities and medical staff. To achieve this, the head of the public health institute RIVM Jaap van Dissel explains: they “want the virus to circulate among people who will have little problem with it, while at the same time, protecting vulnerable groups as much as possible. If a big enough group has had the virus, that will protect the vulnerable”. Van Dissel further said that around 50-60% of the Dutch population would have to catch the virus to reach a level of group immunity.

Vox made a short video of six minutes, clearly explaining how fighting the virus depends on all of us. See it here.

Flatten-the-curve
We need to “flatten the curve”, as illustrated in the graph. Source: © CDC

3. What is herd immunity?

So, what does the term herd immunity actually mean? The idea behind immunity is that once our bodies fight infectious diseases they produce antibodies in response to intruder organisms to fight and remove them (source). As a disease is successfully defeated, it remains a “memory” of the germ. Once a person has developed immunity to a virus – they probably won’t catch it again. Herd immunity builds on that once a lot of people develop immunity to a virus, it will eventually stop the spreading to people who haven’t caught it yet. Thus immunity as a group, or a herd.

This caused divided reactions in the Netherlands. Many agree that the safest strategy is to “flatten the curve”, but the herd immunity-scenario is being criticized. Some experts say that far greater action is required. Others argue that it is unethical to let people get the virus as the intermediate and long term effects of the coronavirus are yet unknown and there is still a risk of healthy people passing on the virus to risk groups following this approach. 

On Wednesday 18 March, the Prime Minister re-emphasized that “The aim of our strategy is to make sure the care sector can cope, that the elderly and the vulnerable are protected as much as possible. A side effect of that is immunity, which is built up slowly and which will help, but not an aim in itself.”

4. How can we protect ourselves?

What else can you do to protect yourself and your families in such a circumstance? Be SMART, be SAFE and be KIND.

  • Be SMART and inform yourself correctly and responsibly.
  • Be SAFE and protect yourself from the virus.
  • Be KIND and support one another.

Here below we provide you the WHO-approved basic protective measures against the Coronavirus.

For daily updated information concerning the coronavirus situation in the Netherlands, visit https://www.rivm.nl/en/news/current-information-about-novel-coronavirus-covid-19 (in English) or call 0800-1351. It is definitely a strange time, so stay safe people!

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