Pandemic experts in the Netherlands have recommended imposing Western Europe’s first partial lockdown since the summer, putting pressure on the government to take drastic and unpopular action to fight a COVID-19 surge.
Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s cabinet is expected to take a decision on Friday on new measures following Thursday’s recommendation by the Outbreak Management Team, a panel of experts, broadcaster NOS reported.
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The cancellation of events is being considered, as well as closing theatres and cinemas, and enforcing earlier closing times for cafés and restaurants, the NOS report said. Schools would remain open.
The government often, but not always, follows the panel of experts’ recommendations.
Many developed countries have said further lockdowns are no longer necessary due to the rollout of vaccines, even as infections spike to record levels.
Countries such as the United Kingdom are relying on vaccine booster shots to increase immunity and avoid overwhelming healthcare systems over the winter.
The Netherlands has so far provided booster shots only to a small group of people with weak immune systems. Despite an adult vaccination rate nearing 85 percent, hospitals in some areas have been forced to scale back regular care to treat COVID-19 patients.
‘Heading for disaster’
Last month, unvaccinated COVID-19 patients in Dutch hospitals had a median age of 59 compared with 77 for vaccinated patients, data provided by the Netherlands’ Institute for Health (RIVM) showed.
Roughly 56 percent of Dutch COVID-19 patients were unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. Among intensive care COVID-19 patients, 70 percent were not vaccinated or partially vaccinated.
Last week, Rutte reintroduced measures to slow the spread of the virus, two months after scrapping social distancing rules.
The steps included the reintroduction of face masks in stores and broader use of a “corona pass” which demonstrates proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result to access certain venues.
But the number of people infected has continued to rise, with RIVM reporting on Tuesday that weekly cases were up 45 percent to 76,790, or more than 400 per 100,000 people.
On Tuesday, a group of hospitals in the southern Dutch province of Limburg called for the government to take additional measures to stem transmission rates, saying they have no space or staff to handle more coronavirus patients.
“We are heading straight for a healthcare disaster and the whole system is becoming jammed,” the five hospitals in Limburg said in a letter to Rutte’s administration. “We’re convinced the rest of the Netherlands will be following us shortly.”