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Update 06-01

Hey everybody!

First of all, I want to wish you a happy new year. Let’s look forward to a better and healthier new year, a year of possibilities rather than restrictions.

Now, on to the update about the current Covid-situation in the Netherlands. Although the Dutch headlines today are full of positive vaccination news, I briefly want to start of with something else first.

As some of the students amongst you have recently returned to the Netherlands after the Christmas break (or will return soon now), please do keep in mind the ten days of self-isolation requirement! I’ve experienced myself how annoying and difficult this might be, but strongly urge you to get through this annoying week-and-a-half. As we are all in lockdown and schools are closed, just stay at home.

So, the main headlines in the Dutch news today:
This morning, the first people in the Netherlands have been vaccinated in the Brabant region! It’s an exciting start, but only a beginning. With capacity ramping up, around 66.000 staff of elderly homes will be able to get vaccinated weekly as of January 18th. This happens in a total of 25 locations throughout the entire country. Additionally, hospital vaccinations for crucial staff are also taking off today.

Here is what can be expected of vaccinations from now on (roughly and subject to change and approval and availability of the vaccine):
As of January, healthcare workers in elderly homes, and crucial health staff/hospital staff will get vaccinated. Some elderly and disabled living in institutions will also get vaccinated in January.
As of February, the main focus will be on the elderly and disabled living in institutions. Additionally, all people with an underlying serious health condition will be able to get vaccinated.
As of March, the elderly who live at home will be able to get vaccinated.
As of April, other hospital staff will get their vaccines.
As of May, the vaccine will be available broadly to everyone living in the Netherlands.
(overview based on governmental roadmap ‘vaccination strategy‘ in Dutch (document direct download))

As May comes closer by, more information will become available. If you fall into one of the categories that get vaccinated earlier, you will most likely be informed by either your employer or GP.

The expectation is to have vaccinations finished sometime between July and October this year. A lot is also depending on the approval, deliveries, and availability of the different vaccines however. It’s a marathon and we’ve only just started.

At this point, close to 75% of the Netherlands feels positive about the vaccines and is willing to get vaccinated. Amongst healthcare workers, this rate is even higher at around 80%.

Some countries that have started vaccinations earlier on have started reporting how many people have received a vaccine by now. An overview of that can be found at ourworldindata.org (note that it only reports doses, not people vaccinated as every person likely requires two shots.) Averaged out in all countries European but the UK and Iceland, the vaccination rate is still rather low, but the process has started!

The EMA just (06-01, 13.18h) approved the Moderna vaccine. After approval from the European Commission (EC), a formality that will happen in the following days, this vaccine will mostly be used to vaccinate some 223.000 people living in elderly homes and other long-term healthcare institutions. As this vaccine does not have to be stored at -70°C, it can be relatively easily used ‘on location’ rather than in vaccination centers. As the ordered quantities for this vaccine are relatively low, this does not mean a major shift in the aforementioned vaccination roadmap.

Lastly on vaccinations: despite firm criticism in parliament about the process so far yesterday, there is broad support for the plans forward from now on. Both Mark Rutte and Hugo de Jonge, respectively Prime Minister and minister of healthcare have admitted their mistakes, and admitted they have to take a more flexible stand that better reflects the reality.

That’s it for vaccines, here are some more updates, unfortunately somewhat less positive:

It is not unlikely that the lockdown in the Netherlands will continue for a longer time. As the infection rate R has reportedly not yet dropped below 1, the risk of a new wave of infections is still very real. The government will make a decision about this at the end of this week, and a press conference will be held next Tuesday.

Although fewer test results come back positive now, the lockdown hasn’t produced a ‘significant effect’ in infection rates. Although there is a slight decrease of people getting tested and positive tests, this could very well be due to the Christmas break rather than a substantial positive change, unfortunately. It is expected that last week, some 172.000 people in the Netherlands were Covid-contagious.

So, when will infection rates really decrease and when can we slowly return to normalcy? It is expected that once 40% of the country has been vaccinated, the effects of vaccination will be visible in nation-wide infection rates, but it will take quite some time until we make it there. As soon as the weakest in our society are protected however, that should make a significant difference in what is possible for everybody else. I can unfortunately not give a specific date for that, so we will have to wait and see.
That is all for now.

I want to kindly ask you to stay at home as much as possible and to not have more than two guests over, to wear your facemask, to keep washing your hands, and to stick to that 1,5m distance to others. Behave responsibly, and stay strong for a while longer. Stay strong and stay safe.

If any questions, please feel free to get in touch with me!

(PS. if you feel like more people could benefit from these updates, please refer them to this website, or let them join one of the WhatsApp news groups)

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update

Update 29-12

Hey everyone,

Here’s a quick update.
First of all, as of today, negative PCR-tests are required to enter the Netherlands by plane, train, bus or boat. The requirements of these tests can be found at the travel FAQ page, and the linked pages of the Dutch government over on that page.
There are some exceptions however: if you travel on a local train or bus, a negative test is not required. This means that on local trains (e.g. Essen (B)-Roosendaal, Leer (D)-Groningen), and local busses (e.g. Turnhout (B)-Tilburg) that do cross borders, such a test is not required. If you’re not sure whether that applies to your cross-border plans, feel free to get in touch.
A negative PCR test is also not required if you cross the border in your own car. People travelling from ‘safe countries’ as designated by the EU are also exempt from the test.
Not sure what applies to you? Check the travel FAQ page.

Secondly, all EU countries have now started vaccinating, except one. The Netherlands has not yet. There is a lot of criticism on this decision. The reasoning behind it is twofold: 1. the logistics of vaccination and 2. it is an explicit choice to not yet start with symbolical vaccination. I will briefly explain the line the Dutch government has taken on this.

  1. Logistics. The logistics part sees two main challenges: first of all the requirement of the vaccine to be kept at -70°C and the fact that the vaccine is packed in large quantities. That is why it has been decided to start vaccination on a few central hubs. It is also the reason why healthcare workers will get vaccinated first, and not the weaker or elderly. The second logistics challenge is that the registration system for who gets what vaccine is not yet ready.
  2. Symbolic vaccination. Unlike the UK, where relatively many vaccines were available right in the first round of vaccinations, the Netherlands will only have a few available. As in France, Belgium or most other countries, only a few people could be vaccinated this year still (e.g. in Belgium, only 500 people in three elderly homes). The decision has been made to only start vaccination once significant volumes are available.
    Please note this translation only reflects governmental communication and not necessarily my personal opinion. If you have factual questions regarding this I’m happy to help and answer. I will however not engage in discussion on this topic.

Lastly, it was announced yesterday that the military will now come to aid of long-term healthcare institutions such as elderly homes, starting in Groningen, Twente and Gelderland. This is because of the precarious situations in those places. Due to sickness and quarantine requirements, it is expected that more elderly homes will struggle with a staff shortage. This decision is supposed to ensure the quality of healthcare.

As I hope this will be my last update for this year, I want to wish all of you a happy new year already. 2021 will be better than this year, so stay strong and hang in there! Also at New Year’s Eve, keep Covid in mind and behave responsibly. I promise I will stay right by your side, also in the next year, and will keep providing regular updates.

PS. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch. I also post these updates via WhatsApp. If you want the latest updates right on your phone, feel free to join the news group!

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update

A Christmas Wish

Hey everybody,

I just want to wish you a Merry Christmas, at this Christmas Night.
Regardless of how you usually would celebrate Christmas, this year is different. 2020 hasn’t been an easy year. Perhaps you’ve lost a loved one, maybe a person close to you feels sick, perhaps you’re more alone than you would have hoped or expected. Please know you’re not alone, however alone you may feel right now.

Regardless of religion, personal customs and traditions, and whatever you are used to doing these days, Christmas is a joyous and special moment for many of us, and not being able to celebrate it properly hurts.
Especially in these days, reach out to your loved ones. Give them a (video)call, shoot them a text message, reach out. If you are with your loved ones, be aware of the chance that Covid might present too, unfortunately. Be aware and take care.

Even though I don’t know most of you personally, I would like to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and send you lots of love, and hope you’ll be able to go grab a drink with your friends soon.

Stay strong, stay aware, and we’ll make it through the pandemic together!
Lots of love and strength,
Bart