Until recently the government’s coronavirus measures were based on the pandemic’s burden on healthcare. The number of hospital and intensive care unit (ICU) admissions determined the risk level: ‘caution’, ‘concern’, ‘serious’ or ‘severe’. The Omicron variant, however, causes relatively fewer hospitalisations. As a result, the risk levels are no longer as relevant and so the government no longer uses them. Instead, it also takes account of other factors, including delayed medical care and economic impact.
Since the start of the COVID 19 pandemic the government has assessed the gravity of the situation on the basis of certain indicators, such as the number of people infected and the number admitted to hospital. The government used this data to determine what measures were necessary. Last autumn it decided to give the greatest weight to the data that reflected the burden on the healthcare system. On the basis of the 7-day averages of hospital and ICU admissions, areas in the Netherlands were given a risk level: ‘caution’, ‘concern’, ‘serious’ or ‘severe’. This approach to risk assessment was appropriate when the Delta variant was the dominant variant. The risk levels were also published on the dashboard.
Less disruptive effect on healthcare system
For some time now, however, Omicron has been the dominant variant. This has led to a change in the ratio of people infected to hospital admissions. People infected with the Omicron variant generally do not become as ill. And if they need to be hospitalised, it is usually for a shorter period. Because of this, the Omicron variant has had a less disruptive effect on the healthcare system than earlier coronavirus variants. Despite the high infection rate, the burden on hospitals and ICUs has been relatively low. As a result, use of the risk levels, which had been appropriate before, is now no longer relevant.
What is more, the risk-level system also proved to be insufficiently flexible. When new variants emerged, for example, the effects of these variants were not always reflected accurately or quickly enough by the risk levels.
How does the government assess risk now?
As of now the government therefore no longer uses the risk-level system. The government still keeps count of the number of people infected, hospital admissions and ICU admissions, but it also considers other factors. This includes delayed medical care due to the pandemic. The government has also decided to give greater weight to the economic and social impact.
By doing away with the risk levels, the government is in a better position to respond effectively to any changes in the situation.