Dutch experts recommend western Europe’s first lockdown since summer

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – An advisory panel of pandemic experts in the Netherlands recommended on Thursday imposing western Europe’s first partial lockdown since the summer, putting pressure on the government to take drastic and unpopular action to fight a COVID-19 surge.

Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s cabinet is expected to take a decision on Friday on new measures following the recommendation of the Outbreak Management Team, a panel of experts, broadcaster NOS reported.

Among measures under consideration are the cancellation of events, closing theatres and cinemas, and earlier closing times for cafes and restaurants, the NOS report said. Schools would remain open.

The government often, but not always, follows the panel’s recommendations.

Many developed countries have said further lockdowns are no longer necessary due to the rollout of vaccines, even as infections have spiked to record levels.

Countries such as Britain are relying on vaccine booster shots to increase immunity and avoid overwhelming their healthcare systems over the winter.

The Netherlands has so far provided booster shots only to a small group of people with weak immune systems. Despite an adult vaccination rate nearing 85%, hospitals in parts of the Netherlands have been forced to scale back regular care to treat COVID-19 patients.

Last month, unvaccinated COVID-19 patients in Dutch hospitals had a median age of 59, compared to 77 years for vaccinated patients, data provided by the Netherlands’ Institute for Health (RIVM) showed.

Roughly 56% of Dutch COVID-19 patients were unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated. Among COVID-19 patients in intensive care units, 70% were not vaccinated or partially vaccinated.

Last week, the Netherlands re-introduced masks and expanded the list of venues that require a so-called “corona pass”, which demonstrates vaccination or a negative test result, to gain access.

The institute on Tuesday reported weekly cases were up 45% to 76,790, or more than 400 per 100,000 inhabitants.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Peter Graff and Gareth Jones)

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