The coronavirus infection rate in the Netherlands does not allow any relaxation in social distancing rules, and that means no more than three guests over the age of 13 for Christmas dinner, prime minister Mark Rutte told reporters at Tuesday evening’s press conference.
In addition, if the figures continue to deteriorate, new tougher measures will have to be introduced before the Christmas holidays, Rutte said.
‘We wanted it to be different and we had hoped for improvement,’ Rutte said. ‘At the last press conference, it looked as if we would be able to do more, but we are not doing well.’
‘The reality is that today we are at a crossroads,’ he said. ‘We either make sure that our behaviour reduces the figures, or the figures continue to go up and then I cannot rule out being here again with tougher measures.’
On October 13, Rutte said that if the number of intensive care admissions had dropped to 10 per day, some of the rules could be relaxed.
However, the first week of December has brought a ‘worrying rise’ of 27% in the number of coronavirus cases, the public health agency RIVM said earlier on Tuesday. And the number of IC admissions is double the hoped-for total.
Rutte urged people to use the Christmas break to stay home, keep to the rules and get tested even if they have minor symptoms. ‘Let us take care that by mid January we will be able to do more,’ the prime minister said.
The prime minister declined to speculate on what measures could be introduced if there is no improvement in the figures. ‘The figures are not good throughout Europe,’ Rutte said. ‘Every country is Europe has a similar package of measures, all of which aim to reduce the number of contacts between people.’
Health minister Hugo de Jonge said that the first delivery of vaccines will now be in the first week in January rather than December, but that every effort is geared towards starting the mass vaccination programme as soon as possible.
In addition, fewer vaccines will be delivered in the first instance than had been hoped, in line with the European ‘fair shares’ approach, he said.
‘Nevertheless, it is a complicated puzzle,’ De Jonge said. The European Medicines Agency has to approve the vaccine for each particular group and that too may change the approach the Netherlands takes, he said.
‘It will be the summer before everyone is vaccinated, but at the same time, we must be wary of that “we’re almost there feeling”,’ the minister said.
‘It is up to us, the key is our behaviour,’ De Jonge said.
Economic affairs minister Erik Wiebes and social affairs minister Wouter Koolmees will also announce new measures on Wednesday evening to help companies which have suffered more than most.