Dutch healthcare officials said on Friday they have begun delaying operations for some cancer and heart patients to free up space in intensive care units during a record wave of Covid-19 infections.
"These are cancer patients that should actually be operated on within six weeks of diagnosis, and that won't be met in all cases. It's also heart patients," said a spokesperson for LCPS, the national organisation that allocates hospital resources.
"It's horrible, of course, for the patients."
The National Institute for Health (RIVM) reported a record of more than 23,000 new cases in the previous 24 hours on Thursday, compared with the previous daily high of around 13,000 reached in December 2020.
With 85% of the adult population vaccinated, both hospital and intensive care unit (ICU) admission rates have so far remained lower than they were at the height of the initial wave in April 2020, although there is a delay between the date of infection and the date of admission to hospital.
With fewer than 200 beds remaining in Dutch ICU as of Thursday, hospitals are scrambling to add more capacity.
The government at the start of November reintroduced mask-wearing in stores, and last weekend it reimposed a partial lockdown, including closing bars and restaurants after 8 p.m.
But the impact of those measures has yet to be seen in the daily case numbers.
Parliament is divided over a plan proposed by Prime Minister Mark Rutte's government to limit access to indoor public venues to people who have a "corona pass", which shows they have been vaccinated or already recovered from an infection. Critics say the move would be divisive and discriminatory.
Schools remain open, and virologists on Thursday proposed extending Christmas holidays to slow infections, which are rising most rapidly among children.