The Netherlands has once again tightened its pandemic restrictions, with a new overnight lockdown announced by the government. The state is battling a record-breaking Covid-19 surge, as hospitals face a ‘code black’ scenario.
Starting from Monday, all bars and restaurants will be closed during night hours and non-essential stores will be closed from 5pm to 5am, the Dutch government ordered on Friday. Masks will be required in secondary schools, and everyone who can work from home is urged to do so, Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced.
Acknowledging that numbers of new cases of the deadly virus have been “high, higher, highest” on a daily basis, the politician said previous “small adjustments,” including the reintroduction of face masks, were not enough to stem the record-breaking Covid wave. Despite 85% of the country’s adult population being vaccinated, the surge in the Netherlands is said to be the worst in Western Europe.
For the past week, above 20,000 infections per day were registered, forcing official instructions to hospitals to postpone all non-emergency operations, including arrangements for cancer and heart disease patients. With more beds needed for Covid-19 patients in intensive care units, some ill people have been transferred for treatment in Germany.
Freeing wards and ICU beds for patients badly infected with coronavirus, the country’s healthcare system is preparing for a ‘code black’ scenario, in which doctors may be forced to choose who lives and dies, due to lack of physical resources to treat everyone who needs care. “Hospitals are already facing such difficult choices,” the chairman of a medical board in Rotterdam, Peter Langenbach told local media.
While the Covid situation has been threatening to overwhelm the Dutch healthcare system this month, a newly discovered variant, the super-mutant Omicron, only adds to an already uneasy situation. First detected in Botswana and South Africa, the B.1.1.529 strain of the coronavirus is now formally declared a new variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO).
READ MORE: Omicron’s spread across Europe: First confirmed case and dozens more suspected
Growing fears of the Omicron variant promptly triggered global travel bans, including in the Netherlands, where flights from South Africa and several of its neighboring countries were barred on Friday. It comes alongside news of Covid-19 test results from passengers just recently arrived from South Africa to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. At least 61 of the 600 arrivals turned out to be positive for the virus.