Netherlands 10 Days Away From Health Care Rationing, Doctor Warns in Lockdown Appeal

The Netherlands is 10 days away from doctors deciding which patients receive care in hospitals after the country had a surge of COVID-19 infections, the Associated Press reported.

The head of the national association of intensive care units, Diederik Gommers, told lawmakers that hospitals are filling up with COVID-19 patients and intensive care doctors will soon have to make difficult decisions about which critical patients receive care and which won't.

Gommers appealed Tuesday for a stricter lockdown, including shutting down schools. The country has already been under a partial lockdown since November 13.

Gommers said that many ICU staff are currently not working because they're either sick or they have children who tested positive and have to self-quarantine, putting further stress on the hospitals.

Over the last week, children aged from 5 to 11 had the highest rates of infections in the country. There has been a 39 percent spike in infections over the past week, according to the country's public health institute.

The Dutch government made social distancing mandatory on Wednesday for all adults in places where COVID passes are not required. The partial lockdown forced restaurants, bars and supermarkets to close by 8 p.m. and non-essential shops to be closed by 6.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Amsterdam, Netherland, Lockdown, Covid-19
The Netherlands is 10 days away from doctors deciding which patients receive care in hospitals after the country had a surge of COVID-19 infections. Above, commuters and tourists, some wearing face masks, take a free ferry across the River IJ in the Netherlands on November 19, 2021. Peter Dejong/AP Photo

Social distancing—staying 1.5 meters from people not in one's family—was already strongly advised by the government. Making it mandatory means law enforcement officials can fine people who do not comply.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said that a press conference for coronavirus measures that had been scheduled for December 3 has been moved forward to Friday.

"The picture is somber and worrying," De Jonge told reporters in The Hague.

The Netherlands is in the midst of a surge that has seen a string of new daily records for numbers of coronavirus infections in recent weeks. Hospital and intensive care unit admissions also rose.

"The turnaround that we want to—have to—see this ensure that pressure on the healthcare system doesn't get too high, has to come soon otherwise we will have to force it," De Jonge said.

The government has asked for advice from a panel of experts and "hopes to make decisions Friday," De Jonge said.

There are currently around 500 COVID-19 patients in Dutch ICUs, which have an overall capacity of 1,066, according to an organization that distributes patients between hospitals. Gommers said the number of beds could be scaled up to a maximum of 1,200 to 1,250 and that around 50 COVID-19 patients are entering ICUs each day.

He said that the government's target of 1,350 beds is out of reach because many ICU staff are currently not working due to illness or family illness.

He said the only way to ease pressure on ICUs is "to ensure that the admissions go down very fast. And the fastest way of reducing (admissions) is tough measures and I think that means a strict lockdown. And that includes schools because I think if you don't close schools you don't stop infections."

The Netherlands and the rest of Europe are awaiting a decision from the European Union's drugs regulator on a request by Pfizer to approve its COVID-19 vaccine for elementary school-age children.