26 November 2021, by Victoria Séveno
EDIT: New information from The Hague has revealed the government plans to introduce a so-called evening lockdown that will come into effect on Sunday. Sources say the lockdown will require all catering and cultural establishments and non-essential shops to close at 5pm, and all children aged nine and above to wear face masks at school. Read the update from Friday’s press conference here.
Once again, the Dutch government has made the decision to bring the next coronavirus press conference forward by a week. With news of a new variant leaving medical experts concerned, the cabinet is discussing the latest advice from the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) and potential new COVID-19 restrictions.
Dutch government discusses potential new COVID-19 restrictions
With over 20.000 positive coronavirus tests now being reported every day, Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced this week that the next press conference – initially scheduled for December 3 – would instead be going ahead on Friday, November 26.
It is certain that Rutte and Health Minister Hugo de Jonge will announce new restrictions for the Netherlands, but what those will be is yet to be decided. “The expected turnaround has not come and that is why we have to take measures, firm measures,” the Health Minister said on Thursday.
Advice published by the OMT this week called for all schools and higher education institutions to remain open, but said catering establishments, non-essential shops, and other so-called flow locations (i.e. museums) should close between 5pm and 5am.
Sources in The Hague say the cabinet agrees that schools and universities should remain open, but whether the rest of the OMT’s advice will be followed is not yet clear – it’s possible the Prime Minister could opt to enforce another (intelligent) lockdown. The cabinet is set to make its decision on Friday before the press conference, with sources telling NOS that the new restrictions will last for three weeks, coming into effect on Saturday.
New coronavirus variant emerges in southern Africa
Meanwhile, doctors are worried about the emergence of a new mutation “of serious concern” in South Africa and Botswana. On Thursday, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NICD) confirmed 22 cases of variant B.1.1.529 had been identified so far. Experts working with the World Health Organisation (WHO) report that infections also occurred amongst vaccinated people. De Jonge has already announced a ban on all flights from southern Africa.
This week has been a big week for vaccine news, with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approving the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine for use amongst five to 11-year-olds. The Health Council of the Netherlands has also recommended booster shots for everyone over the age of 18. The first booster shot was administered to a 90-year-old woman on November 18 – currently, everyone born in or before 1939 is eligible for the jab.
On Thursday, the government’s coronadashboard reported 22.274 coronavirus infections and 61 deaths. As of November 25, there were a total of 2.545 COVID-19 patients being treated in Dutch hospitals – 530 of whom were in intensive care – marking an increase of over 400 since last Thursday. Hospitals across the country are being forced to further scale down regular care and cancel a number of operations and procedures.