Having ended its controversial nightly coronavirus curfew less than a week ago, the Netherlands has already reapplied the public health brakes and postponed the next stage of national reopening scheduled for May 11th.
The caretaker Dutch government had billed that date as the day the second stage of its five-point normalisation plan would come into effect, with last Wednesday’s reopening of outdoor cafes due to be augmented by museums, gyms, amusement parks and zoos.
That next stage was placed on hold at the weekend, when a special Sunday cabinet meeting due to give the green light was cancelled at short notice, followed by confirmation that a press conference on Monday had also been abandoned.
Instead of appearing in public, acting health minister Hugo de Jonge used Twitter to say what several of the government’s own experts had been saying – for at least a week – that the peak of the third wave had not declined enough yet to allow further easing of restrictions.
"The pressure on hospitals is still too great, and so we will continue to look at what is possible on a week-by-week basis', said Mr de Jonge, who along with acting premier Mark Rutte backed the decision to end the curfew against the experts' advice.
Part of the minister’s reluctance to appear in public may have been due to computer problems at the weekend which left some confusion over the latest coronavirus statistics and whether the daily 9,263 cases reported to 10am on Monday should more correctly have been some 7,000.
On average, just over 7,000 new cases a day have been reported over the past week. The number of deaths has fallen to an average of 18 a day, including 17 over the past 24 hours.
The government’s concern, however, is that despite those figures, hospital admissions continue to rise rather than fall, up 42 on Monday to 2,642. In parallel, there were 21 new admissions to intensive care, bringing the total figure to 825.
A new element is “a sharp rise” in patients under the age of 50 being hospitalised with Covid-19.
From the beginning of March to the end of April, 294 patients between 30 and 50 were treated in intensive care – compared with 263 at the height of the pandemic last year.
This is a nationwide trend, according to Prof Robin Peters of Erasmus University.
“Some 75 per cent of those patients between 30 and 50 didn’t have any underlying medical complaints”, he said. “They were previously healthy young people who are now seriously ill in hospital.”
In a Maastricht hospital, two coronavirus patients – one 76 and the other 67 – died when a power cut shut down a machine giving them oxygen.