“We have to learn to live with the virus.” This week it was one of the first statements by the new Minister of Health, Ernst Kuipers. The Netherlands is not ready for that for the time being, despite the relaxation of the current hard lockdown.

Recently, there has been increasing criticism of the corona measures, often pointing to our neighboring countries: why can you go to a restaurant or the cinema just across the border? The countries around us seem to have much less trouble with the infection rates rising like a rocket. How do they deal with the omikron variant?


In Belgium there will be no lockdown, but measures have still been taken that seem to be the norm in the Netherlands for some time. For example, you have to wear face masks in many places, working from home is mandatory, nightclubs are closed and the public is not allowed at sports competitions. The most recent measures were introduced just before Christmas.

The difference is mainly in the IC capacity, which is much larger in Belgium. The Belgians have 2000 beds for more than 11 million inhabitants. In the Netherlands there are 1150 beds for more than 17 million people. Belgium is also further with the booster campaign. “If we get nervous in Belgium, it is already pure panic in the Netherlands,” virologist Marc Van Ranst said earlier. “If there were more IC beds in the Netherlands, there probably wouldn’t be a lockdown now.”

In addition, a discussion has erupted in Belgium about treating corona as flu. Van Ranst thinks that this will be possible after the current omikron wave. By this he means that we do not have to take a laundry list of measures with each new wave – assuming that omikron is less sickening. Yet a double flu season is still intense, he says. “We have to prepare ourselves mentally that we can have twice as many deaths, but we will not upset society as a whole.”

Fellow virologist Steven Van Gucht, the face of the corona press conferences in Belgium, does not yet dare to draw that conclusion. There are still corona measures, but that is not the case during a flu season, so it is also difficult to consider corona as flu, argues Van Gucht. However, he says it will happen someday. “That will be a gradual thing, but not yet after the omikron wave.”


In Spain it is different. There are relatively few measures nationally. Spaniards are also required to wear face masks outside, but the various regions themselves decide whether to impose restrictions. For example, in some regions you have to show a QR code in the catering industry.

In Madrid, where correspondent Rop Zoutberg is located, there are hardly any restrictions, except for the capacity in restaurants. There, the pressure of entrepreneurs in particular plays a role in decision-making. “The catering industry in particular was extremely important here for the re-election of the regional president last year. She saved the sector and bottles of wine with her label on it were even sold. The tendency to close the catering industry is very small here, partly because there is really a lot of life is in cafes and restaurants, unlike in the Netherlands.”

While the flu discussion among Belgians is still at virologist level, the government in Spain has already expressed the wish this week to ‘influenza’ corona. Spain is at an advanced stage in developing a new monitoring system for the coronavirus, which will no longer require testing every day, but will have to use samples to detect waves of contamination at certain health centers and hospitals.

That system should be introduced later this year. The plan has triggered a lot in Spain, says Zoutberg. “You notice that doctors’ organizations are coming up against each other here. They say: ‘The government is very enthusiastic, but they lack enough information to be enthusiastic. We still know too little about the effects of omikron.'”


This week, our eastern neighbors exceeded the limit of 80,000 new corona infections in 24 hours for the first time. As in Spain, it is mainly the federal states themselves that take measures based on what is agreed nationally. It seems that the national government will allow additional measures at the end of this week.

There will probably be a 2G-plus policy for restaurants and cafes. This means that in addition to showing a vaccination and recovery certificate, a negative corona test is also mandatory. The latter does not apply to people who have already had their booster shot.

In Germany IC capacity plays a major role. Nowhere in Europe are there more beds (per 100,000 inhabitants) than in Germany. Problems are now expected when offering corona tests, because there are so many infections. The government is also concerned that many people will end up sick at home and that critical professions are understaffed.

The new German government also plans to introduce mandatory vaccination, but that plan has yet to be fully worked out. Chancellor Scholz originally wanted the obligation to apply by March at the latest, but that is very likely no longer feasible. That is the most important discussion at the moment, says correspondent Charlotte Waaijers.

“There is also division within the government. Not everyone within the liberal FDP is, for example, in favor of an injection obligation, because the party is usually against curtailing freedoms.” Then it is also unclear when it will be voted on, says Waaijers. “It lasts and it lasts. The opposition party CDU/CSU wants the government to come up with a proposal. But the government wants the parliament itself to be free to come up with various proposals. And next month the parliamentary month will also be shorter because of carnival, so there is also less time to get started.” The first vote on compulsory vaccination will probably be held in March at the earliest.


In Denmark, the number of corona infections is still high, but the pressure on the healthcare system is easing. That is why the country will continue to relax next weekend, says correspondent Rolien Créton. “The cultural sector will open again, such as museums, cinemas and theaters. There will be measures such as showing the corona pass and wearing face masks. Places where many people come together, such as nightlife and stadiums, will remain closed.” Despite the omikron variant, restaurants and shops have remained open.

The situation in the hospitals is under control. “That is not only because omikron is a milder variant, but also because of the vaccination rate. About 55 percent of Danes have already had a booster shot.” Denmark has already approved the fourth shot for the vulnerable. They can already get that shot from this week.

United Kingdom

Like Denmark, the United Kingdom is ahead of the rest of Europe. “At the national level, the number of infections is falling and medical experts and politicians are expressing more and more optimism and hope. They wonder whether this could be the beginning of a new phase, in which the virus is milder and less sickening. More and more prominent people say that the peak is now over,” says correspondent Fleur Launspach.

According to Launspach, the motto in the United Kingdom has long been that people ‘have to live’ with the virus. There too, the idea would be that the situation is slowly changing from a pandemic to an endemism, just like in Spain. In the United Kingdom, many people have been vaccinated and few corona measures are currently in place. In some places people have to wear face masks, in addition people have to work from home if possible. “Now there is even talk of possibly releasing those, and therefore all, measures at the end of this month,” says Launspach.

The number of people in intensive cases and on ventilators is falling, but hospitals are still having a hard time. This is also because many staff drop out because they are infected with the corona virus. “Last week there was talk about the collapse of the NHS, the British healthcare system. But the NHS is also cautiously optimistic.”

The British government also announced today that the isolation period will be extended from seven to five days. According to Launspach, this was done with a view to the economy, but also to compensate for the loss of personnel – for example in healthcare.


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