‘There are small bright spots, shadowed because the virus has us on our knees again’


One of the new measures: mouth masks in public interior spaces.Image ANP

After seven months of corona measures, we start more or less all over again with a second lockdown to get the virus under control. If that doesn’t work, the lockdown will be even stricter. Is this the darkest moment of the corona crisis?

‘For me personally, that was in March, when the virus was already everywhere unnoticed without us realizing it, and there was real panic. That is less the case now. Although I think it is a terrible shame that we have to go into lockdown again. All those people in affected sectors, who will probably really go bankrupt now, I find that really sad. ‘

Did you hear anything hopeful at the cabinet press conference on Tuesday?

‘Public health minister Hugo de Jonge said there is little sunlight in the figures and I totally agree with him. The figures mainly give rise to pessimism. Just before the pandemic last year I wrote about an American model of infections and that predicts exactly what we are experiencing now. Even the dates on which lockdowns take effect in the model correspond quite well with practice: the first lockdown in March, now another lockdown that, according to that model, will last until the end of December, then some respite and, unfortunately, again in lockdown at the end of January. And according to that model, that will continue until after 2022. ‘

That is not an optimistic scenario. Corona patients become less ill, can we cling to that?

‘That is certainly a ray of hope. Medicines are increasingly preventing people from ending up in intensive care and that is progress compared to March. Then it was pneumonia, go on a ventilator and the only treatment option was to put patients on their stomachs.

‘Now doctors are fine-tuning the use of drugs such as anti-inflammatory dexamethasone and virus-inhibitor remdesivir. Patients themselves are also more alert: they know that they have to go to hospital immediately if they are short of breath. Those are small bright spots, which are overshadowed by the fact that we have been brought to our knees again by the virus. ‘

What do you think is the main cause of this?

‘It’s mainly because of the cabinet’s struggles. On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Rutte still said that the high level of infection is not due to the policy, but is caused by too many people who disregard the rules. Come on, there is only one who has let things slip and that is the cabinet.

‘They went on vacation this summer thinking: it’s over. While they were recovering, they should have finally gotten the testing capacity and contact investigation in order. That did not happen. Now, as a ray of hope, Hugo de Jonge can say that the figures are at least clearer than in March, but that is only part of the story. Because source and contact research has now more or less been abolished and you are blind to the virus: you no longer know where infections take place.

Rutte now keeps talking about that hammer. He got that from an essay, The hammer and the dance. First you deal the virus a heavy blow and then the dance starts with the virus. But the cabinet has forgotten that dance, they hit the virus and then let it come back again.

Another ray of hope: all European countries are in the same boat. I would find it worse if all countries around us now avoid the second wave while the Dutch contamination rate is among the highest in the world. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too strict with our cabinet in that regard. And I expect a lot from a new quick test, which will probably already be available after this lockdown. ‘

We have little comfort in that while sitting at home for the next four weeks, but in any case the discussion about mouth masks is over, because they will be mandatory. Is that positive?

‘That clarity certainly helps, because it gives peace of mind: we have finally gotten rid of the nagging about mouth caps. The Dutch do what they are told to do, the group of people who want to adhere to clear rules is large.

‘Rutte always points to his own responsibility for our behavior, but he does not take up the insights of behavioral science there. Every behavioral scientist knows that you have to take people a little by the hand. Take Ikea, for example, where they hand out masks at the entrance: you see that many people wear it anyway.

‘That’s why I think it’s so crazy that Rutte, for example, restricts alcohol sales. The idea that if you don’t give the people a drink, they’ll start behaving on its own doesn’t make any sense. In any case, aAll luxury off. The cafe, the restaurant, the volleyball practice at my club. It is good that the cabinet has learned that not all nursing homes are closed for visitors. It’s great that the schools are not closing and that the contact professions can continue to work for the time being. Something still remains open, I hold on to that. Via lockdowns and bright spots, we are stumbling in small steps looking for the exit from this crisis. ‘

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