The Netherlands shortened its controversial nightly curfew by one hour from Wednesday evening despite the seventh consecutive week of rises in new coronavirus cases and substantially fewer people than expected accepting a vaccine.
In a bid to prevent the public from flouting social distancing regulations over Easter and as the evenings lengthen, the start of the curfew has been pushed back from 9pm to 10pm, though the finish at 4.30am remains the same.
When the curfew was first imposed in January, caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte insisted it should ideally start at 8pm, or 9pm at the latest, "for maximum effectiveness". However, he U-turned following warnings that it could also pose problems for evening family meals during Ramadan next month.
Since then it’s become clear that new coronavirus cases are trending upwards again in what Mr Rutte and acting health minister Hugo de Jonge have warned is now a “visible” third wave, with higher infection rates in all age groups.
That view is again confirmed by the latest figures for the week to Tuesday, March 30th, which showed 51,866 new cases – essentially back to where the country was in the first week in January when 54,000 people tested positive.
In addition, the figures showed a notable spike in the number of cases reported among vulnerable 70-74 year-olds, up an extraordinary 27 per cent. The reason remains unclear.
The rate of vaccination is also problematic.
The Dutch were the last in the EU to begin vaccinations and have been struggling to catch up. However, latest figures show an unexpectedly high reluctance to accept vaccines even when they are available, says the public health institute.
According to its director of vaccinations, Jaap van Delden, just 280,570 people were vaccinated last week – compared with a target of 416,000 who were contacted and actually asked to make appointments for the inoculation.
Part of this could be residual reluctance to accept the AstraZeneca vaccine. Only 36,000 appointments were made for the 100,000 available AstraZeneca vaccines, said Dr van Delden. Another factor may be bottlenecks in GP practices and at call centres.
Anti-vaccination campaigners have been active in many Dutch cities, with poster and sticker campaigns that read Vaccine: Just Say NO.
However, there is some positive news. As yet unpublished research by Dutch hospitals in the first half of last year suggests that while obesity is, as suspected, a risk factor in becoming more seriously ill with coronavirus, it does not increase the likelihood of dying once a patient reaches intensive care.
"Eighty per cent of coronavirus patients who reach intensive care are obese, but once they reach intensive care they all have the same chance of survival," said research leader Prof Peter Pickkers.