Just weeks after lifting nearly all its pandemic restrictions, the Netherlands is battling one of the biggest increases in coronavirus cases in the world, forcing it to reverse course and demonstrating the challenge of reopening amid an ever-changing pandemic.
Nearly 52,000 people in the Netherlands tested positive for Covid-19 over the past week, a more than 500% increase from the week prior, according to Dutch government data released Tuesday.
With the more infectious delta variant becoming increasingly prevalent, new infections have soared more than 1,130% in the last 14 days, according to a tracker run by The New York Times, the fourth-largest increase in the world over that period behind just Malta, the British Virgin Islands and Laos.
Though it has not yet led to an increase in deaths (despite a national vaccination rate of 39%), Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte acknowledged this week that the explosion of cases was the result of reopening too early.
In what Rutte has since deemed “an error of judgement,” the Netherlands largely scrapped its remaining coronavirus restrictions on June 26, including limits on bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
The data released by the country’s public health institute shows more than 60% of the new cases reported over the past week were among people aged 15 to 25, while almost 40% of those who knew where they had been infected said it happened during a night out.
As a result, Rutte announced he is reintroducing some coronavirus restrictions, including a midnight curfew on bars and the shuttering of clubs and discotheques until mid-August.
Though infections are at their highest levels in over a year, hospitalizations increased by only 11% over the past week, according to the Dutch Institute for Public Health. Deaths are still hovering around the average since mid-June of two per day. In announcing its renewed restrictions, the Dutch government acknowledged the coronavirus surge does not “currently pose a threat to vulnerable groups or the capacity of the healthcare system,” but warned the high number of infections poses a risk to the majority of its residents who have not yet been fully vaccinated.
“All this gives the government cause for concern,” read the announcement. “We cannot discount the possibility that hospital admissions will again increase in the weeks ahead.”
The Netherlands joins a large number of countries that have had their plans for reopening hampered by sudden virus surges. The quick spread of the delta variant in Spain, Portugal and other parts of Europe is threatening to disrupt the region’s summer reopening.