That the end of the pandemic stage of the corona crisis is in sight is starting to become more and more noticeable on the continental corona maps. After an optimistic installment last week about the expected turning point at the end of this month, it is time to zoom in on things this week. The new infections are trending downward almost everywhere and not too slowly either. With the combination of corona measures, rising vaccination rates, and summer just around the corner, this looks like it could well be the last throes of the virus here.
Is the acute pandemic threat over? It is looking more and more like it. But we’re not quite there yet. How are the numbers doing? As usual, that varies quite a bit depending on where you are. A clear decline can be seen across the board. But for the Netherlands and Sweden, among others, that point is not (yet) in sight. This becomes clear at a glance with the following sliding charts in which the past week is compared to the previous week and the end of March.
Coming down fast to stable levels
The good news is that almost everywhere, the situation is no longer really out of control. In Central Europe, a slide downwards shows how decisive lockdowns can be. Also in France, the decision to lockdown the parts of the country again where there are hotspots seems to be paying off. In fact, Portugal is falling so steadily that it is ending up with the same drop rate as the United Kingdom, even though many more residents have been vaccinated there.
As it is still too early to see the impact of vaccines in most countries, this heat map gives a clear insight into where measures led to manageable figures the quickest. Poland appears to be the champion in decisive lockdown policy. Whereas the impact of the measures in the Netherlands looks extremely disappointing. Yet measuring these impacts is very difficult because the government has been implementing relaxations in recent weeks. Is this stable trend the goal here? Maybe.
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Testing, testing, testing
In any case, increases are no longer really an issue in Europe. Even in Sweden and the Netherlands, the viral spring flames seem to be dying down a bit. Nevertheless, the numbers there still remain very high. Other continental corona hotspots can be found in Croatia, Cyprus and Lithuania.
Yet infection rates do not tell the whole story. A significant proportion of infections remain under the radar because of the high number of patients who do not get tested and do not develop serious symptoms. For an accurate picture, the proportion of positive tests should also be scrutinized more closely.
If the proportion of positive tests remains below 4 percent, the source and contact tracing can, with dedicated detective work, stamp out every single hotbed, which would make lockdowns unnecessary. With this as a premise, Japan and South Korea managed to sit out the entire corona crisis without needing any harsh and prolonged measures.
In Europe, this still seems to be more difficult to achieve in most countries. What measures governments did choose to take in order to get corona under control can be read in the Corona in Europe report from two weeks ago. Where did government measures work best? Epidemiologically, that is overwhelmingly the Czech Republic, with a sharp decline in both infection rates and positive tests.
This second heat map shows the progression of the percentage of positive tests and instantly explains why German Chancellor Angela Merkel pulled the “emergency brake.” While Germany did not necessarily stand out in terms of infection rates, the increasing positive rates were still/ enough cause for concern.
Judging by the figures, the Netherlands is doing rather poorly. What is striking is that the Dutch government cannot manage to really reduce the number of infections through the measures it has implemented. Apparently, the same rules work less well in the Netherlands than elsewhere. What exactly is the reason for this? Most likely a combination of mediocre government policy, questionable decisions, wavering crisis communication, and a dwindling support base among the population for abiding by the rules.
Completely bucking the trend, the Netherlands has been at more or less the same level for about six weeks, while at the same time the proportion of positive tests keeps on rising. Despite these worrying figures and full hospitals, it was still decided to loosen the reins. These relaxations were also noticeable on the streets in recent weeks. The city centers are filling up again, Ajax and Cambuur Leeuwarden celebrated their football championships in the old-fashioned way and Amsterdam turned into a massive street party on King’s Day.
So are the Dutch cities of Amsterdam and Leeuwarden deeply red on the corona maps over the past week? No. Again, these figures are not that concrete. There still seems to be little sign of a viral hangover on the maps. The number of infections among people in their twenties is rising, but this does not seem to be the consequence of any one particular party.
Latest local perils for The Netherlands
In the first week of May, the fiercest viral blaze can be found in the same place where all the misery originally began: the Dutch provinces of North Brabant and Limburg. The numbers are also still rising in Twente and amongst a number of religious communities. Yet for the time being, there is little evidence on the maps of any nasty viral souvenirs in Leeuwarden or Amsterdam. In fact, nationwide, the pressure seems to be easing somewhat. Although this may also be due to the many disruptions that the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) had to deal with in recent weeks in combination with the public holidays. Whether this is just a blip or the beginning of the end, is something that we will find out in the coming weeks.
That the rates will in any case start to decline from the end of this month seems almost certain. As in the rest of the EU, the pace of the vaccination campaign has picked up, so it seems only a matter of time before we get ‘British conditions’ here. The next few weeks will be needlessly tense though with tens of thousands more infections, ICU crowding and deaths looming. It’s just as well that clumsy government policies and questionable compliance among the local population have no bearing on the efficacy of the vaccines.
Meanwhile, the European Championship vaccination is still in full swing. Is the Netherlands really making a name for itself in this event? Mwah. Based on the numbers from the past few weeks and the intention of hospitals to step in to provide additional capacity, it looks like there is still plenty of room for improvement. The race of nations looks like the following this past week:
A rose-tinted future?
Are the vaccines working? Absolutely! Just a glance at the chart below says more than enough. These are the infection rates in a number of countries that are administering vaccinations to people at the rate of at least 50 shots to every 100. That a decline in infections is imminent seems to be a certainty. Nice! But when? Apparently, the most rapid decline is seen in countries where the infection rate is already at a low level, even without the vaccines.
When will this tipping point be reached exactly? My prediction that it will happen sometime at the end of this month still stands. Nevertheless, because of the constant crowds in the ICUs, Dutch nurses will have to wait a little longer to take vacation leave than their colleagues in other countries. Yet countries such as Portugal and Denmark will most likely be able to signal that the fire is under control much sooner.
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