The medical face masks protect slightly better against infection, states the OMT, which will be useful now that the omicron variant is spreading. Virologists are advising that such face masks should be worn not just in higher education but also in indoor and outdoor public places where maintaining the proper distance is not possible.
The number of infections among students and other people in their twenties is highest, says Hoebe. “Almost one third of all infections are within this group. People in their twenties have been over-represented throughout this epidemic and now they are again, not just in Limburg but in the whole of the Netherlands. This is because, despite the lockdown, they have the most social contacts and get-togethers. Moreover, until now they have had the fewest booster shots, because their turn was later. And without the booster, you are only 25 per cent protected against omicron. With the delta variant, that was 90 per cent.”
According to AD, a massive number of students are now in quarantine with their housemates after the holidays. There are very few student houses in the centre of Leiden that are COVID-free, one student says.
A point in favour for the south is that the number of infections in Limburg rose less quickly than in other provinces. “That is because omicron arrived here last. The percentage of omicron in Limburg is 91 per cent. Based on data from last Sunday, the South Limburg region has the fewest infections of the whole country. In Noord-Holland, with almost twice as many reports, omicron was already 100 per cent last Friday.”
Hoebe is factoring in a disruption to society. “That sounds somewhat serious, but what I mean is that because of the wave of omicron cases, a lot of personnel may be laid up. Either because they are sick or because they have to quarantine. This applies to health care but also to higher education.”
Despite the fact that the booster vaccinations and the lockdown have abated the omicron wave, we still haven’t managed to completely bring the reproduction number back to below the 1. “Because of this, the number of infections is growing exponentially. The most recent, official estimation of the R number - on 23 December – was 1.16. That will shoot up to about 1.7 this week. That could in turn result in a peak of fifty thousand cases a day by the beginning of February.”