AMSTERDAM, Nov 26 (Reuters) – The Dutch government was set to announce new measures on Friday including early closure of bars, restaurants and most stores to stem a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 infections that is threatening to overwhelm the healthcare system.
Caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte was meeting with his Cabinet to make a final decision on what measures are needed to ensure that hospitals, stressed by a flood of new coronavirus patients, do not run out of capacity in intensive care units.
Rutte was due to hold a televised news conference announcing the decision at 1800 GMT.
The current wave of Dutch cases, running above 20,000 infections per day for the past week, has continued despite restrictions including the reintroduction of face masks and closure of bars and restaurants after 8 p.m. imposed by Rutte’s government earlier this month.
The surge in the Netherlands, one of several European countries to be hit by a wave of infections, is also occurring even though 85% of the adult population have been vaccinated, with infections now rising most quickly among schoolchildren, who are not vaccinated.
A report on Thursday by national broadcaster NOS said the country’s top healthcare panel had advised Rutte to close restaurants and non-essential stores by 5 p.m. — and against closing schools. But some experts argue that school closures are needed as part of a short, near-total lockdown to regain control of the situation.
A government proposal, not yet policy, to restrict unvaccinated people from public places prompted three nights of rioting last weekend.
National security officials were meeting Friday to prepare for possible protests after the new measures are announced.
Dutch hospitals have been steadily curtailing care amid the rising coronavirus cases, with non-essential operations being cancelled or postponed from this week in order to free up beds in ICU units. Some patients have been transferred to neighbouring Germany.
The Dutch associations of house doctors and neighbourhood nurses said on Friday they too are becoming overwhelmed.
We “are doing everything we can to continue to offer the most necessary care,” they said in a joint statement. “That’s only possible if we postpone or don’t give some normal care.
Photo – A customer is looking at Christmas items in the Intratuin garden center in Zoetermeer, the Netherlands, EPA-EFE/Phil nijhuis