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The Netherlands – the new European continental Omicron hotspot – was not prepared for so many new cases. While the hospitals could cope with the pressure of the serious health problems and the ICUs, things were different at the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). Nearly every day there was a malfunction in the system that the GGD staff uses to report their positive tests daily. And because the number of new infections kept on rising, the number of under-reported Dutch corona infections rose to more than 200,000 in the past weeks. Things were straightened out this week.

On Tuesday, this numerical chaos was corrected with an astronomical number of a whopping 380,377(!) ‘new reports’ of infection rates that were in fact not so new at all. And this was not only noticed in our own country. Only the fanatically testing Denmark reported more positive cases per capita than the Netherlands over the past seven days. This is what this looked like on the map of Europe. With this new tool, it is possible to zoom in closer on these visualizations with 4K resolution.

Astronomical numbers

Because the Netherlands does not have the same testing capacity that many other Western European countries have, and about 500 regions in Europe are being monitored for Corona, it has actually never happened in almost two years of pandemic that almost all of the Dutch provinces can be seen in the upper regions where infection rates are concerned.

And while these were obviously not this week’s ‘real’ infection figures, it is still quite a noticeable sight in the sub-national top 25. Utrecht and Gelderland occupy the sixth and seventh positions with respectively 4.08 percent and 3.97 percent of the entire population testing positive over a period of seven days.

The Dutch provide of North Brabant ranked 9th. The correction also earned the other provinces of Overijssel (12), Zeeland (14), South Holland (15), North Holland (18) and Flevoland (23) a slot in the European top 25. Only Denmark and the Baltic States reported similar figures this week – without computer malfunctions. In many countries, the number of new cases actually saw a stray decline this week. This is easy to see on the slider chart showing the week of February 10 next to the one from the last full week of January.

A lot of easing of measures

Since the arrival of omicron in Europe, all the rules of the game as we knew them over the past two calendar years could be thrown out the window. The result? Infection rates that are no longer expressed in numbers per 100,000 inhabitants, but in percentages of the population, while the burden on hospitals doesn’t seem to be getting out of hand anywhere. Despite the many corona coughs that abound, far-reaching relaxations of corona measures are in store for many Europeans.

Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Great Britain have even signalled that the pandemic fire is under control with an immediate repeal of all restrictions. Although the WHO and experts warn that it is probably a bit too early for so much optimism and easing off of restrictions at the same time, more and more governments are convinced that the omicron variant is not a major concern. Is this justified? For the short term, it would appear so, especially where the omicron peak is already behind us. The decline already started last week in France and Belgium and now Portugal and Switzerland also seem to be heading for the blue zones.

What else was eased up this week? As of next weekend in the Netherlands, partying will be allowed again until after midnight. For those who find 01.00 too early, they can move to Belgium where pre-pandemic closing times for the hospitality sector will soon return. In France and Italy, face masks are no longer mandatory in indoor public venues. German federal states think it’s time to make the 2G requirement less stringent, while the Czech Republic scrapped this controversial access policy altogether for restaurants, hair salons, cultural institutions and sporting events as of this week. Spain, Finland and Switzerland will most likely announce their “post-pandemic fun package” next week.

Worst corona map ever

Because the Dutch figures are so distorted by the many glitches and corrections, it is not yet entirely clear whether the downturn has already begun. Judging by the proportion of positive tests and the daily rates in the western provinces, this does not look like this trend will last very long. Omicron is continuing its path eastward with rising figures in Germany, Austria, the Baltic States and Romania.

Consequently, skewed daily records, such as on Tuesday, February 8, and macabre fiery-red corona maps like this one are not likely to happen again anytime soon. Because although this was, of course, largely caused by that time lag, it still produces a very ominous corona map of the Netherlands, especially next to its neighbors. The lag was greatest in Roosendaal, Ede, Overbetuwe and Nijkerk.

More than 9 percent of the total population in these Gelderland municipalities has been factored into RIVM’s municipal data over the past seven days. This means that last week’s missing corona patients have been accounted for, and at least Gelderland has a clear-cut explanation for their dubious honor as the region with the highest weekly increase in Europe.

Correction of the correction

What does this map say about the current situation? Not much. The February 8 figures were so colossally high that it affected the rest of the weekly figures, including those on the European map. The Netherlands may be positioned relatively high, but not as high as the black-and-red pandemic apocalypse shown above would suggest.

If you exclude the days with major disruptions, the following picture emerges on the slider charts compared to last week and three weeks ago.

Is this the final month?

As you slide the charts over, pay particular attention to developments in our neighboring countries. France, Belgium, the Netherlands (and to a lesser extent Germany) are behaving like dominoes, where the infection rates are falling steadily over a period of several few weeks, even without additional restrictions. Our southern neighbors are also showing that things can go very quickly indeed.

Is the pandemic over? That is unclear. Viruses can continue to mutate in all sorts of ways, but Europe seems to have been spared, at least for the time being. Never before have so many people been infected with corona while hospitals were able to handle the caseload and the death toll has never been so low.

By the end of this month, we will have been stuck two solid years in this insane pandemic. A good time to look back, look forward, and draw a line under it. I am done with corona. Hopefully corona is done with me as well. It would be nice to end this corona cartography column with a few hopeful white-and-blue weekly maps. It goes without saying that – as I did with my last ‘final’ farewell – that I will provide a blazing finale in words and pictures.