Saturday 16 January 2021

Schools, ‘British’ variant and economy are central in lockdown extension decision

Amsterdam shoe store Shoebaloo has turned its windows into a giant digital showroom so customers can order on the spot via their smartphone. Photo: Diek van Tol

The government is set to extend the current lockdown by three weeks at Tuesday night’s press conference, and experts say there is no alternative.

Although the number of positive coronavirus tests is going down, dipping to below 5,500 on Monday, the reduction is still too slow to allow any relaxation of the measures, epidemiologist Amrish Baidjoe told broadcaster NOS.

In addition, the arrival of the more infectious ‘British’ variant of the virus in the Netherlands is worrying, Baidjoe said.

‘You need to make policy based on that variety spreading in the Netherlands, with everything that entails,’ he said. ‘If you do relax the rules and the ‘British’ variant takes hold, then the figures can rise rapidly and we will end up with a situation like in Britain.’

According to some reports, ministers have discussed, and then dismissed, imposing a curfew to ensure people stay home.

And some sources also suggest that the government may decide to open primary schools on January 25. However, Baidjoe suggests this would be unwise given the role, however minor, that young children have in spreading the virus, often because they are asymptomatic.

The CNV trade union has suggested giving parents struggling with home schooling and doing their regular jobs extra leave so they can better cope. And according to the Volkskrant, the cabinet is considering paying an extra benefit for parents who take time off work to focus on home schooling.

However, RTL correspondent Fons Lambie says the government will not take a decision on schools until next week, when the results of research on the impact of school closures on the spread of the virus are due to be published.

Perspective

At the same time, the chiefs of the 25 public safety boards are urging the government to offer perspective, which they say, will boost willingness to comply with the rules already in operation.

‘The lockdown is under strain,’ regional safety board chief Hubert Bruls told reporters. ‘It’s not just companies and the hospitality industry, but also people stuck at home. You cannot throw measure after measure at them endlessly. People need something to look forward to.’

Economy

Economists are warning that extending the lockdown will plunge the Netherlands into recession, news website Nu.nl reported.

A recession means the economy will have contracted for at least two successive quarters, and that is likely to have happened in the final quarter of the year when the new lockdown was introduced, economists say.

‘Earlier we had forecast slight growth in this quarter but we can forget that now,’ Rabobank economist Carlijn Prins said. ‘And the fourth quarter of 2020 was probably worse than the third.’

Nevertheless, economists are convinced that the economy will recover quickly once the lockdown is eased and the vaccination programme is really under way.

‘Both consumers and companies will be able to spend more,’ ING economist Marcel Klok told the website. ‘But the longer the lockdown continues, the slower the recovery will be. More people will lose their jobs and more companies will go bust.’

DutchNews.nl will follow the press conference live on Twitter.

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