THE HAGUE: The Netherlands is set to announce strict anti-coronavirus measures ahead of Christmas including possibly closing all non-essential shops, theatres, museums and amusement parks, reports said on Monday.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will speak to the nation at 7:00 pm (1800 GMT) as the number of infections continues to rocket and the death toll passed 10,000 over the weekend.
The change of venue from a usual press conference room to Rutte’s office is significant as it is usually only used when the Dutch premier makes a major announcement.
Rutte also postponed a planned meeting on Monday with Belgian counterpart Alexander De Croo "in connection with recent developments around Covid-19". Parliamentary leaders of all Dutch political parties were to meet at Rutte’s ministry later on Monday.
The expected tightening of measures follow a cabinet crisis meeting on Sunday to discuss rapidly-rising figures with almost 10,000 new infections reported on the same day. "Exactly what the more stringent measures will be is not yet known, but there are many indications that non-essential stores will have to close for a while," the NOS public broadcaster said.
"Schools may also have to close for a while and cabinet is also considering advising only going out when really necessary," the NOS said. Meanwhile, Singapore has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, and expects to receive the first shipments of the shots by the end of December, the prime minister said on Monday.
The city-state joins a handful of other countries around the world, including Britain and the United States, which have approved the jab. Singapore hopes to have enough vaccines for its 5.7 million population by the third quarter of 2021, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a televised address.
Priority will be given to those at most risk, such as health care workers, the elderly and vulnerable. Vaccination would be voluntary, Lee said, but he was "strongly" encouraging people to get the shot.
"Because when you get yourself vaccinated, you are not just protecting yourself. You are also doing your part to protect others, especially your loved ones," he said. In a related development, Sweden’s statistics agency said Monday that the country suffered the highest number of deaths in November since the Spanish flu a century ago, as it battles a second coronavirus wave.
A total of 8,088 deaths were recorded in Sweden last month, corresponding to an excess mortality of 10 percent compared to the average between 2015 and 2019, according to Statistics Sweden.
"That’s the highest number of deaths recorded during the month of November since 1918, which was the year the Spanish flu broke out," Tomas Johansson, a population statistician with the agency, said in a statement.
However, the number of dead in November 1918 -- 16,600 -- was double last month’s toll, and the country’s population then was roughly half of what it is today.
The number of dead in November 2020 was also 77.9 per 100,000 inhabitants, lower than 79.2 in November 2010. Sweden suffered a heavy death toll from the new coronavirus from March to June -- more than 5,000 fatalities in a country of 10.3 million people.
But Sweden, which has famously elected to curb the disease with mostly non-coercive measures, saw a decrease in both cases and fatalities between July and mid-October, with around 400 Covid-19 deaths registered.
The spread of the virus has since picked up speed and according to Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare, the number of people receiving hospital care on Monday reached 2,406, near the peak of 2,412 on April 20. However, only 10.5 percent of patients treated were in intensive care, compared to 22 percent in April.
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