Netherlands brings forward next phase of reopening as infections tumble

Amsterdam hospital announces closure of a coronavirus unit due to fall-off in admissions

Dutch outgoing minister of health Hugo de Jonge: “All the figures that should be going down are going down, and those that should be going up are going up.” Photograph:  Bart Maat

Dutch outgoing minister of health Hugo de Jonge: “All the figures that should be going down are going down, and those that should be going up are going up.” Photograph: Bart Maat

 

After a 15-month struggle with coronavirus that has cost more than 20,000 lives, the Netherlands is to bring forward the third phase of its reopening by four days – on foot of figures showing a significant fall in new infections and fatalities.

In advance of Friday’s cabinet meeting, acting health minister Hugo de Jonge said that, as of Saturday week, June 5th, the hard-pressed catering sector – which saw its biggest-ever fall in sales last year – can again serve food indoors, though only to a maximum of 30 socially distanced customers.

At the same time, cinemas, theatres and museums will reopen to those with bookings. Private homes will able to have four guests rather than the current two a day. And in the meantime, secondary schools are to reopen on Monday, May 31st, some six weeks before the summer break.

Vaccination programme

“All the figures that should be going down are going down, and those that should be going up are going up,” said Mr de Jonge, in response to falling patient numbers and a national vaccination programme that’s recovering after a less-than-promising start.

What’s given the caretaker government particular cause for optimism are the latest figures from the public health institute for the week to Wednesday, which showed a sharp drop of 28.2 per cent in new infections, with correspondingly fewer new patients in intensive care and fewer deaths.

In one significant sign of that positive trajectory, Amsterdam’s main university teaching hospital announced on Thursday that it’s to close one of its three specialist coronavirus units due to a fall-off in admissions. Hospitals are also starting to scale back their intensive care capacity.

Routine operations

The encouraging picture in hospitals is replicated in nursing homes, where the number of institutions reporting new infections in the last seven days has fallen from 134 to 106.

At the same time, the vaccination programme has at last gained traction. More than 8.6 million doses have now been administered – with 13.5 per cent of the eligible population now fully vaccinated and 35 per cent having received their first jab.

An estimated 140,000 routine hospital operations were delayed due to the pressure of Covid-19 and the aim is to catch up completely this year, according to a briefing to MPs.

However, healthcare professionals had to be given enough time in the interim for physical and mental recovery before routine working could be resumed, said hospitals minister Tamara van Ark.