Thursday 23 September 2021

Some hope for hairdressers, but cafes will remain closed: prime minister

Hugo de Jonge and Mark Rutte during the debate. Photo: Bart Maat ANP

MPs have urged the cabinet to consult more than just health experts when deciding what steps to take to tackle the coronavirus epidemic and say the social and economic impact of the lockdown must also be addressed.

The ruling right-wing Liberal VVD and ChristenUnie plus the Labour party (PvdA) say that behavioural scientists, economists and experts in international cooperation should also be consulted about the impact on the measures on wider society.

‘This would give the cabinet a wider spread of opinions in the phase we are now entering,’ ChristenUnie leader Gert Jan Seegers said during Wednesday night’s debate.

But the idea did not go down well with prime minister Mark Rutte, who said ministers already consult various think-tanks and interest groups before taking their decisions. Nevertheless, when pressed by MPs, he did agree to look into what could be organised.

Banned from working

VVD parliamentary party leader Klaas Dijkhof stressed the disappointment in some sectors which are still banned from working – without any deadline for change.

Rutte said that hairdressers and nail stylists may be able to start working sooner, if that can be done safely. But it is still far too early to think about opening bars and restaurants again, even as an experiment, he said.

‘If cafes and restaurants open now, you will get lots more people on the streets and full terraces. And you risk people bumping into each other in narrow spaces and spreading the virus,’ he said.

Rutte said he ‘hoped’ that more rules could be relaxed in three weeks time. ‘But every relaxations will lead to more people becoming ill,’ he said. ‘That is unavoidable.’

Testing

Health minister Hugo de Jonge told MPs that people who look after their elderly or infirm relatives may be the next group to get priority for testing for coronavirus.

Healthcare workers are currently top of the list for tests, and teachers will be added once primary schools start back on May 11. Carers may then be included as well, if there is enough testing capacity, De Jonge said. Some 40,000 tests are now being carried out a week.

De Jonge also said that local health boards will be more involved in tracing the source of coronavirus infections, with or without an app.

On Wednesday De Jonge told MPs he was commissioning his own team to develop a ‘track and trace’ app after a weekend fast-track procedure flopped. ‘Do I know if it will work?’ De Jonge said in answer to MPs’ questions. ‘No, I don’t.’

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