This blog post was written by Dewi Jager, part of the Exit Strategy Bulletin team.
During uncertain times, we tend to look to others for information. In these Corona days, it might be useful to look at the actions of other countries for our next steps. Right now, we are at the beginning of a long way back to a life that we used to know, but we are not the only ones. Several countries in Europe have already partly lifted their lockdowns, and things are slowly reverting back to some form of normalcy. These events give rise to one big question: how are things playing out in different countries?
Germany lifted their restrictions on April 20th by opening hotels, shops and restaurants, but urged people to wear protective face masks (Duncen, 2020). A critical factor to watch during an exit strategy is the reproduction number — the number of people an infected individual is expected to infect on average, also known as Rt (Stubley, 2020; Newey & Rigby, 2020). Rt is calculated in a statistical program by multiplying the probability of infecting another during contact, the amount of contact per timeunit, and the duration during which the disease is contagious (Blauw, 2020). Estimates of Rt remained relatively low the first days after the restrictions eased. However, recent estimates of the Robert Koch institute show that Rt has increased to above 1. According to the institute, it is too early to say whether this increase is the start of a second wave of infections or part of a series of fluctuations in the reproductive number (Lovett, 2020).
Denmark has been one of the first countries to impose a lockdown on March 11, even before the country had seen its first COVID-19 death (Baker, 2020). Based on the recent number of infected and deceased individuals, it seems like this strategy has worked out well (John Hopkins coronavirus research centre). The country started easing their restrictions on April 15th by opening kindergartens and primary schools, followed by hair salons and other small businesses (Baker, 2020). According to scientist Christian Wajse, since the country has lifted some restrictions it has seen no bigger spread of infections and there has been no indication of a second wave of infections (Henley, 2020).
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Sweden’s approach has been the odd one out. The country has imposed very few restrictions, betting on herd immunity and their citizen’s good behaviour. In the early weeks, this strategy seemed to work out well (Franssen, 2020). However, the question remains whether this is still the case. Based on the latest numbers by John Hopkins University, the number of infected people is still rising rapidly, compared to neighbouring countries, and the Swedish death toll per million inhabitants has now risen above that of the Netherlands (John Hopkins coronavirus research centre). With these numbers in mind, it is not surprising that the country’s strategy has been under attack. According to the country’s minister of health, however, it is still too early to ‘judge Sweden’s light touch’ (Henley, 2020). Based on calculations by mathematician Tom Britton, Stockholm might reach herd immunity by mid-June. So, while other countries may soon be facing a second wave, Sweden might already be beyond its worst (Karlson, Klein & Stern, 2020).
The Netherlands took its first repercussions on the 12th of March by canceling big events followed by closing schools, bars, restaurants and gyms on the 15th of March (‘’tijdlijn: het coronavirus’’, 2020). Now, two months into what prime minister Rutte calls an ‘intelligent lockdown’, things are opening up again, starting with schools, small businesses and libraries from the 11th of May onwards (‘’Zo gaat Nederland weer open’’, 2020). The number of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations has been decreasing since the end of March, with currently less than 350 covid patients on the IC (Frijten & van Uffelen, 2020). These numbers suggest that the measures taken by the government have worked out positively. Since restrictions have just been lifted, it is too early to tell what impact this will have on the spread of COVID-19, but if all goes well we may be looking at a summer with full restaurants, terraces and campings (‘’Zo gaat Nederland weer open’’, 2020).
Although it is tempting to make a direct comparison between the Netherlands and these countries, it is important to keep in mind that each country differs in lockdown strategy, health care system, society and so on. However, since every country has taken different measures against the pandemic it will be interesting to see when and if each strategy, in the end, reaches the same Corona-free goal.
Baker, S. (2020, April 10). Denmark rushed to lock down before almost every other country. Now it’s response is so far ahead that it’s starting to remove restrictions. Business insider. Retrieved from: https://www.businessinsider.nl/coronavirus-how-denmark-reached-stage-of-easing-lockdown-restrictions-2020-4?international=true&r=US
Blauw, S. (2020, April 30). Dit is het belangrijkste getal deze epidemie – hoe wordt het berekend? De correspondent. Retrieved from: https://decorrespondent.nl/11149/dit-is-het-belangrijkste-getal-van-deze-epidemie-hoe-wordt-het-berekend/162248208386-a0a5fdf8
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Henley, J. (2020, April 30). Danes and Czechs say easing lockdowns has produced no covid-19 surge. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/30/danes-and-czechs-say-easing-lockdowns-has-produced-no-covid-19-surge
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Lovett, S. (2020, May 12). Germany lifts more lockdown measures despite ‘critical’ infection rate. Independent. Retrieved from: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/coronavirus-germany-lockdown-infection-rate-cases-economy-a9508206.html
Newey, S., & Rigby, J. (2020, May 10). What is the ‘R’ value and why is it so important for the easing of the coronavirus lockdown? Telegraph. Retrieved from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/what-r-value-means-help-lift-coronavirus-lockdown-uk/
Stubley, P. (2020, May 11). Coronavirus infections accelerate in Germany again as lockdown is eased. Independent. Retrieved from: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/coronavirus-germany-cases-spread-lockdown-lifted-r-number-a9507571.html
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