Dutch weigh booster shots, reintroducing masks as COVID-19 cases surge

FILE PHOTO: People with and without protective masks walk on the street while shopping as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Amsterdam, Netherlands October 7, 2020. REUTERS/Eva Plevier

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -Dutch health authorities on Tuesday recommended COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for older adults, as the government weighed a new package of measures to stem the latest surge in infections.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte is expected to announce steps including the reintroduction of masks in stores to slow the spread of the virus at a press conference slated for 1800 GMT.

Other measures under consideration include expanding the use of the country’s proof-of-vaccination “corona pass”, currently used to gain admittance to bars and restaurants, to also include gyms and museums.

While 84% of the Dutch adult population has been vaccinated, new infections have risen steadily since the government ordered an end to social distancing rules on Sept. 25.

As of Tuesday, new infections were up nearly 40% week on week to more than 300 infections per 100,000 people, approaching peaks previously seen in July 2021, and in December and October 2020.

The strain on hospitals is an immediate concern, as many are curtailing normal care to accommodate a new wave of COVID-19 patients. The country’s National Institute for Health (RIVM) said on Tuesday admittances are up 31% in the past week, with unvaccinated patients accounting for most admittances.

Among people testing positive in the past month, about 52% say they were unvaccinated, while 45% say they were fully vaccinated, according to RIVM data.

Earlier on Tuesday the country’s Health Council recommended that fully vaccinated adults aged 60 and older should begin receiving a booster shot.

Rutte’s government routinely adopts the council’s recommendations.

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