As expected, the Dutch government will not lift the curfew before the end of March and has extended the recommendation to avoid all foreign travel until April 15, as efforts to get coronavirus under control continue.
But some minor relaxation of the rules are ahead. Swimming lessons for children up to twelve will resume next week and non-essential shops will be able to have more customers depending on the number of square metres. And if the infection rate comes down as hoped, café terraces will open again next from March 31 and physical lessons at hbo colleges and universities will resume.
If you look around, and listen to people ‘it is obvious that the lockdown in this form cannot continue,’ prime minister Mark Rutte said. ‘It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep going.’
There have been protests from cafe owners, sex workers and various other groups over the past few weeks, and support for the government’s strategy is declining.
‘We have to learn to live with the virus, and see what we can do with fast tests and what risks we dare to take,’ he said.
At the moment the infection rates and hospital occupancy is stable but still too high, he said.
Another 3,924 people tested positive for coronavirus in the 24 hours to Monday morning, while the number of patients in intensive care is back at the levels seen in early February. The number of infections is below the seven-day average figure, which has hovered around the 4,500 mark for the last two weeks.
‘The government advisors say that now is not the time to relax the rules, but what we are doing is bringing in a couple logical and sensible corrections,’ he said. ‘And we hope to be able to take new steps around Easter, to make sure we can start resuming our normal lives.’
We are nearing the tipping point, Rutte said, where the vaccine is gaining the upper hand.
Health minister Hugo de Jonge said that if the vaccination programme continues as expected, then by July 1 everyone who wants a vaccination will have had at least one. This means, he said, ‘that by the summer, we will have said goodbye to most of the rules.’
In nursing homes in which everyone has been vaccinated, for example, residents are now allowed two visitors a day, and different visitor throughout the week.
Testing too, he said, can help employers, people in education and shops to work more safely. And ‘entry testing’ also offers hope for mass events, he said. The initial results of the FieldLab experiments, involving a concert, dance event and conference, are very promising, De Jonge said.
But at the same time, no one should feel they have to prove they have been vaccinated to gain entry to an event, he said. ‘Vaccination is a free choice and will remain so,’ he said. ‘In addition, we have to be careful that we don’t end up with a two-tier society.’
Tests with the CoronaChecker app, which shows if people have had a negative test, are now well underway and the government will bring in legislation to cover which sectors can use the system, he said.
In addition, using the app cannot be a condition for an economic sector to reopen, he said. ‘I expect it to be used for mass events rather than cafes and bars,’ he said.
Work is now underway on incorporating the ‘vaccine passport’ into the app, and possibly a certificate of immunity for people who have already had coronavirus.
De Jonge also said that the legislation which will require people to go into quarantine on their arrival in the Netherlands may still take a further month to go through parliament. Just 25% of arrivals stick to the recommended quarantine period, he said.
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