‘The Dutch government has warned it may have to reimpose “restrictive measures” to combat an autumn wave of coronavirus that could infect “millions of people” – though it promised to keep any closures to “a minimum” and there was no mention of a new lockdown.
Health minister Prof Ernst Kuipers said, however, that the unilateral imposition of new precautions could perhaps be avoided if areas such as business and education took pre-emptive action in the form of “sector-specific rules” to contain the virus after the summer.
“By planning now, these sectors can play a hugely important role in slowing the spread of the disease without the government having to reimpose tougher measures, such as closing schools, bars and restaurants,” the minister urged in a letter to parliament.
He predicted, however, that in the event of the “black scenario” of a large-scale outbreak, the government might be forced to abandon its preference for a sector-based strategy and act unilaterally – perhaps reintroducing vaccine passports, for instance, “in exceptional circumstances”.
The minister was responding to stinging criticism from the national hospitals’ association that health authorities appeared to have inexplicably “fallen asleep” in terms of planning for an autumn surge or tackling the systemic problems that became apparent during the two-year pandemic.
“It’s a bit of a head-in-the-sand approach,” said David Jongen, vice-chairman of the association. “There’s been a striking lack of urgency about fixing the shortage of intensive care beds that hampered our initial response to the virus, and now we have serious staff shortages as well.”
The nurses’ association agreed, saying it was “very concerned” at a shortage of frontline intensive care nurses.
Politically, the government’s position is made substantially more difficult by the fact that MPs voted at the start of this month to abolish the hugely controversial emergency powers the Mark Rutte-led government needed to tackle the pandemic.
Given the days of nationwide rioting that followed the imposition of a nightly curfew in January last year and the series of court challenges it sparked, such legislation might be well-nigh-impossible to push through parliament a second time, especially with a new coalition since the start of this year.
According to the latest figures from the public health institute, RIVM, the number of people testing positive for coronavirus rose last week for the first time in three months – up from 7,088 the previous week to 9,459 – with no single cause in evidence.
Although the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control believes a rise in “variants of concern” could lead to a new wave of infections as early as this summer, an RIVM spokesman said it’s too early to say if the latest rise in positive tests is a first indication.