THE HAGUE - The Cabinet will decide this Friday whether it will impose a new set of coronavirus restrictions on the Netherlands. Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said that the Outbreak Management Team will hold its next meeting on Wednesday evening, and will provide advice to the Cabinet the following day.
This will then be discussed by ministers on Friday. Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Hugo de Jonge are expected to hold a press conference to announce any changes later that evening. The next press conference had been expected to happen on December 3, after the coronavirus restrictions introduced on November 13 could be evaluated with three weeks of data.
However, the situation has continued to deteriorate. The average number of daily infections doubled from 11,000 on November 9 to 22,000 on Tuesday, exactly two weeks later. The growth rate in daily infections has largely increased by roughly 40 percent every week for seven weeks straight. The number of daily Covid-19 hospitalizations has also gone up by 30 percent in a week to levels not seen since but for a few days around last Christmas.
"That is why we have asked to bring forward the OMT advice, so that we can make a decision in the short term," says De Jonge. He wants to know from the experts what it takes to "force the turnaround".
Intensive care physician Diederik Gommers made the urgent appeal to bring forward the OMT meeting from Friday, and instead hold talks as quickly as possible. The meeting was originally scheduled for Friday. Gommers told the members of the Tweede Kamer committee on health, welfare, and sport that the Cabinet will need to seriously consider another hard lockdown, and also the closure of schools.
He argued that many intensive care units were shorthanded because of staff members who were forced to stay home to take care of children who were either infected with the coronavirus, or who cannot attend school because of infections in their group.
Gommers said that the intensive care system in the Netherlands can handle a maximum of 650 patients with Covid-19. With 488 ICU patients in care on Tuesday, he said there was a high likelihood that a Code Black situation could arise in intensive care within ten days. In that situation, hospitals have to choose who they can help at the entrance because there are not enough available spaces to help everyone.
De Jonge immediately responded to Gommers during a debate in the Eerste Kamer. He said, "I cannot predict that we will be there in ten days. It seems to me that Mr. Gommers cannot predict that either." De Jonge did say that he would adhere to the advice of the OMT he had at the time, which did not mention the Code Black scenario at the intensive care units.
"This is so important that I can clear my agenda for the OMT at any time if necessary," said pediatrician Karoly Illy, one of the experts in the OMT. Earlier on Wednesday, he said he had no objection to meeting earlier than the planned Friday discussion, but said the decision was up to Jaap van Dissel, the OMT chair and point person at the RIVM.
Illy was not ready to comment on the measures needed to contain the current wave of infections and prevent massive problems in hospitals. "At the previous meeting, last Friday, we said that we would give the previous measures a chance."