Thursday 25 February 2021

Coronavirus rule relaxation is risky but responsible, Rutte says

Mark Rutte and Hugo de Jonge during the press conference. Photo Sem van der Wal ANP

As expected, prime minister Mark Rutte announced four changes to the current coronavirus regulations at Tuesday evening’s press conference, but said the curfew will be extended until the morning of March 15.

Secondary schools are to open again and each pupil should have at least one day’s lessons at school from March 1, Rutte said.

From March 3, hairdressers and other ‘contact’ professions can start up again – apart from sex workers – and teenagers and adults up to the age of 27 can play team sports outside, but not formal competitions. In addition, from March 3, shops can open to customers by appointment.

All four measures will have a ‘socially positive impact,’ Rutte said. ‘We are entering a new and very difficult phase. We are all getting fed up… and we are trying to keep the negative impact as small as possible.’

Government think-tanks have also warned about the impact on society, he said, and this is why we have to take a few more risks. The relaxation of the rules, he said, is ‘not a free ticket’ and can be reversed, apart from the reopening of the schools.

Direct appeal

Rutte also addressed television viewers directly, saying that he wanted to make a ‘personal deal’ with everyone in the Netherlands. The extra risks mean that we must all keep to the basic rules even more strictly, he said.

‘Your behaviour counts,’ he said. This means wearing a mask in the supermarket, working at home and having a test even with the mildest symptoms. Some 25% of people who test positive for coronavirus still go the supermarket or take the dog out for a walk, he said. Such behaviour, he said, is ‘dangerous and potentially life-threatening’.

Old lives

‘It will still be a while before we get our old lives back,’ health minister Hugo de Jonge said. However, he said, testing and the vaccination strategy are offering the way forward.

‘By mid March, two million vaccinations will have been given and three million by the end of the month, as long as the vaccines come in, he said. ‘And we are now seeing the first cautious results as infection rates in nursing homes and among healthcare staff go down.’

Asked about reports that Astra Zeneca will only be providing half the vaccines promised in the second quarter, De Jonge said the company is extremely difficult to make a deal with and said the lack of solid delivery dates was ‘maddening’.

Work is also underway on the ‘complex’ draft legislation to anchor quarantine for new arrivals in law, De Jonge said. Currently only around 25% of people go into quarantine on arriving in the Netherlands, as they are supposed to, he said. The legislation is likely to be completed in March.

The next review of the situation will take place on March 8, when ministers will decide what should happen from March 16.

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