As the Netherlands heads into winter and faces a rising number of coronavirus infections, the Dutch government and Outbreak Management Team (OMT) are discussing options for (re)introducing restrictions at next week’s press conference.
COVID-19 cases in the Netherlands more than double in October
The weekly report published by the National Institute for Public Health and Environment (RIVM) on Tuesday revealed that the number of COVID-19 cases in the Netherlands had more than doubled between October 12 and October 26. Over the last week, a total of 38.733 infections were recorded, equating to 255 positive coronavirus tests for every 100.000 members of the population.
While Dutch hospitals have also once again seen an increase in the number of COVID-19 patients admitted, the RIVM notes that the success of the Netherlands’ vaccination campaign means hospital admissions are significantly lower than they were this time last year. In week 42 of 2020, 1.629 coronavirus-related hospitalisations were recorded, compared to 584 in week 42 of 2021.
The RIVM attributes this recent increase to the relaxation of a number of coronavirus restrictions at the end of September, as well as the seasonal weather and temperature drop the country has experienced.
Could the government introduce restrictions for the unvaccinated?
Facing pressure from hospitals and doctors to take action against the rising infection rate, the government announced this week it was bringing the next coronavirus press conference forward, from November 5 to November 2.
While many had initially suspected the government would only introduce new restrictions for members of the population who were unvaccinated, this idea has faced significant pushback. Members of the OMT believe this move would create too much polarisation within the country and that it would be difficult to implement, and the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer) agrees.
Public opinion, however, seems to say something different. A recent poll conducted by the Dutch TV programme EenVandaag amongst over 28.000 panellists found that 72 percent of people who are vaccinated support the introduction of restrictions for unvaccinated people. “Unvaccinated people claim their freedom but limit that of others. Because of their (unnecessary) hospitalisations, they deprive people of treatment and thus health,” one panellist wrote.
Next coronavirus press conference scheduled for November 2
Alternatively, the government could choose to introduce local restrictions, depending on the vaccination and infection rates in each specific region or city. But MPs and members of the OMT argue that, instead of reintroducing restrictions, it would make more sense to ensure the current measures are properly enforced.
Meanwhile, Koninklijke Horeca Nederland (KHN), the largest union representing hospitality businesses in the Netherlands, is asking the government to lift the enforced closing time of midnight for bars, restaurants and nightclubs, and to instead focus on shutting down illegal (house) parties.
The EenVandaag survey found that 60 percent of respondents were in favour of the government strengthening national measures at the next press conference. Regardless of what the government chooses to do, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge seems to be aware that many will be left frustrated, but is adamant that the main goal is to prevent the Dutch healthcare system from becoming “overloaded.”