Face masks mandatory in schools, Hospital care scaled back; "Brace yourself" says De Jonge
A new set of coronavirus restrictions to be announced Friday evening will likely include making many primary school and all secondary school students wear a face mask when they are not seated in a classroom, sources told NOS. Additionally, most publicly accessible locations will be ordered closed from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. At the same time, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge has ordered all hospitals to scale back planned healthcare.
The Cabinet will have to take significant steps in the coming period to reduce the number of coronavirus infections, De Jonge said. He warned that people "should brace themselves for a harsh winter." The Cabinet will "take all necessary measures to relieve the burden on healthcare."
Many of the measures which will be introduced during a press conference with Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Health Minister Hugo de Jonge are also meant to keep the education system open for as long as possible. The face mask obligation is expected be announced for all children in group six or higher. It is not yet clear if that would be the only restrictions that schools will face.
"If you see it rising so fast, you have to force that turnaround," De Jonge said as it was announced that scheduled surgeries are being postponed across the country to provide more acute care. The measures announced earlier this month are still having little effect.
The "evening lockdown" will include nightly closures from 5 p.m. for the hospitality sector, non-essential shops, arts and culture businesses, amateur sports competitions, and locations where people move in a route from one space to the next, such as zoos and museums. There will be more facilities affected by the early closing time, NOS reported.
Essential shops, like grocery stores, pet stores, and drug stores will be allowed to remain open until 8 p.m. All locations can then reopen at 5 a.m. the following day. Sources told NOS the evening lockdown will begin this weekend, and could last for three weeks.
Large amounts of healthcare procedures postponed
De Jonge also announced that all hospitals will postpone scheduled care, which could include delaying critical surgeries, if that is considered both necessary and "medically acceptable. The Stage 2D hospital situation was announced to free up staff to provide for more patients in intensive care units, and more patients suffering from Covid-19. The military has also been asked to provide assistance.
The National Coordination Center for Patient Distribution (LCPS) and the National Network for Acute Care (LNAZ) had requested the introduction of this approach. This is the final stage before Stage 3, which in practice means a Code Black scenario where there are not enough ICU places to cope with all of the patients requiring intensive care.
In practice, this means that the "hip, knee and cataract operations really will stop everywhere" to have more people at the beds where acute care must be provided to patients including those with Covid-19. "We need everyone to continue to provide care," said De Jonge. This new step has "far-reaching consequences", the health minister admitted.
The military will help 100 to 120 soldiers detailed to the UMC Utrecht. That "offers help and breathing space," he added. "We are using everything to keep critical scheduled care going." If you delay those interventions for more than six weeks, such as certain chemotherapy and tumor removals, "you may be too late."
A letter sent by the minister to the Tweede Kamer showed that appointments are also being postponed at outpatient clinics if it creates a situation where those staff members could be deployed to acute care facilities. The ICU capacity will go up to 1,150 beds "and then to 1,350 ICU beds." He added, that the LCPS is continuing to transfer Covid-19 patients from busier healthcare centers to quieter facilities, and placing a "maximum effort" for international cooperation.
Reporting by ANP and NL Times