Curfew and home visit rules to be eased as hospitals ask staff to cancel holidays
With coronavirus infections running at an average of 7,700 a day and intensive care occupancy at its highest level for almost a year, the Dutch government is widely expected to relax its coronavirus restrictions at a press conference on Tuesday.
Health minister Hugo de Jonge would not confirm on Monday whether changes to the rules are in the pipeline, but sources cited in several media outlets said restrictions on social mixing would be eased.
The curfew, originally introduced in January for a two-week period, will be lifted from April 28, according to the reports, while two home visitors will be allowed per day rather than one.
Bars and restaurants will be able to serve customers outside from the same date, but under strict conditions. A maximum of two people from different households will be allowed per table, the total number will be limited to ensure social distancing and all establishments will have to close by 6pm.
Non-essential shops will be able to open to customers without an appointment, ending the system that requires people to book at least four hours ahead.
Udo Delfgau, director of shopkeepers’ organisation INretail, said he was confident the booking system would be scrapped, but the limit of one customer per 25 square metres of floor space will remain in place. ‘It will still be limited opening, but it’s a step forward,’ he told NOS Radio 1.
Meanwhile, several hospitals have asked their staff to work through the May school holiday as they expect the number of patients in intensive care to peak at the end of April, the Volkskrant reported.
‘Team leaders are asking people if they can hold on for a while, whether they really need to take their holidays,’ Bart Berden, chair of the board of the Elisabeth TweeSteden-Ziekenhuis in Tilburg said.
On Tuesday the number of coronavirus patients in intensive care reached 813, the highest figure since April 28 last year and representing around two-thirds of all ICU beds. Several hospitals said last week they were having to delay heart and cancer surgery to make space for extra intensive care beds.
Hospitals’ capacity is being further limited by high levels of sickness absence among staff who have been caring for coronavirus patients for more than a year. Nursing organisation V&VN said 15% of people working in Covid-19 departments were currently signed off.
The total number of people being treated in hospital has stabilised in the last week at around the 2,500 mark, but infections have risen by 7.5% in the last seven days to an average of just under 7,700 – the highest level since the first week of January.
One positive development is that the pace of vaccination has accelerated in the last week to 100,000 a day. People born in 1953 and 1954 have been able to book appointments online since Monday via the government’s digital portal.
Registrations will open for those born in 1955 next week, the Volkskrant reported. By the end of the month everyone over 60 will have been sent an invitation.
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