AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch government said on Thursday it would take strong measures to curb COVID-19 infections as hospitals scaled back other care to make way for coronavirus patients.
About 85% of the adult Dutch population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but the Netherlands has averaged more than 20,000 new cases daily for the past week, passing peaks seen in previous waves.
"That heavy measures will be needed is beyond doubt," Health Minister Hugo de Jonge told reporters in The Hague.
He acknowledged that measures taken at the start of November had not been sufficient. These included reintroducing the wearing of protective face masks in stores and a partial lockdown https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/netherlands-impose-partial-lockdown-halt-covid-19-surge-media-2021-11-12, with people encouraged to work from home and bars and restaurants closing at 8 p.m.
"The tipping point is not going to happen by itself," he said, adding that the government has not made a final decision yet on what new measures will be necessary.
National broadcaster NOS reported that the country's Outbreak Management Team (OMT) has advised the government to close restaurants, bars, and non-essential stores by 5 p.m. while allowing schools to remain open.
A government proposal, not yet policy, to restrict access to public places to people who have been vaccinated or have recently recovered from COVID-19 prompted three nights of rioting https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/dutch-pm-lashes-out-idiots-after-third-night-violence-2021-11-22 from last Friday and more than 170 people were arrested across the country.
The National Network for Critical Care said on Thursday all hospitals were being forced to postpone routine operations to free up beds for COVID-19 patients.
"There are hospitals in several regions scaling back care," spokesperson Mariel Croon said. "We are talking about care that requires a bed. That means a lot of operations are being cancelled."
The number of coronavirus patients in hospitals has reached levels not seen since early May, and experts warn they will run out of space in intensive care units by the end of the month if infection numbers continue to rise. Several Dutch COVID-19 patients were transferred to German hospitals this week.
Under the next phase of the crisis response plan, hospitals could also request the assistance of military personnel and students to help nurse patients.
The Netherlands has recorded more than 2.5 million cases and over 19,000 deaths since the pandemic started.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch, Toby Sterling, Bart Meijer; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Kirsten Donovan and Timothy Heritage)