Prime minister Mark Rutte and health minister Hugo de Jonge will hold a press conference on Friday evening to outline what the next measures will be in the fight to contain coronavirus.
The prime minister said on Monday that testing would play a ‘crucial’ role in keeping infections down going into the autumn. He also said there were no plans to bring in more restrictions now infections were falling after the spike in early July.
But while universities, schools and event organisers hope for fewer rules, some experts are warning it is too soon to relax coronavirus measures any more – such as by abandoning social distancing.
Not only is the infection rate still high at around 2,500 cases a day, but the impact of the summer holidays is not yet being felt, they say. And while hospital numbers have stablised at around 650, this is still a considerable number.
Gowri Gopalakrishna, a professor of public health and epidemiologist at Amsterdam’s VU university, told broadcaster NOS that it is too early to think about relaxing the measures still in place.
‘Schools and universities are closed,’ he said. ‘Fewer people are at work because of the holidays. So there is less mobility and that means less transfer of the virus. These are all factors that contribute to the current low figures. But what will things look like when the holidays are over?’
VU microbiology professor Christina Vandenbroucke-Grauls also warned against relaxing the rules during the holiday period. ‘The holidays have an influence on the figures,’ she said. ‘They may look okay now, but once the holidays are over that could change.’
The government has called on everyone returning from holiday to take a test when they get back to the Netherlands, and people who have not been fully vaccinated are required to show a negative test result if they have been to EU countries such as Spain and Italy, or to the UK.
So far nearly 22 million vaccination doses have been given in the Netherlands and 71% of the over 18s are now thought to be fully vaccinated. A further 14% have had a single dose. However, just 43% of 12-to 17-year olds have been vaccinated even though they have been able to make an appointment since July 2.
Károly Illy, chairman of the Dutch paediatrics association, told NOS he expected the cabinet will decide to ‘do something for education’ in Friday’s announcement. This could, for example, be the green light to abandon social distancing at universities.
University and hbo college chiefs have called on the cabinet to remove the social distancing requirement in higher education, saying it is inhibiting students’ development. Some regional health boards are also hoping to start direct vaccinations at schools.
Ministers must also decide what to do about the Formula 1 Grand Prix, due to be held in Zandvoort on the first weekend in September.
Event organisers and club owners have also called for clarity. The number of positive tests in the Netherlands has plunged since the government was forced to do a u-turn on its June 26 decision to open up clubs and allow festivals, after infections soared to over 10,000.
The Volkskrant points out in its analysis of the situation that the infection rate and hospital figures are now are much less promising than at the end of June, and that the decline in new infections has flattened in recent days.
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