The Netherlands is ready to take new steps to wind down its coronavirus measures, if the decline in hospital admissions continues, and that includes longer opening hours for cafes and fewer regulations for sports and keep fit clubs.
‘It remains a balancing act,’ prime minister Mark Rutte told reporters on Tuesday evening, after the national health institute RIVM reported the number of new infections had fallen below 6,000.
In particular, the cabinet plans to allow cafes to open their outdoor seating areas from 6am to 8pm from May 19, so that guests can have both breakfast and dinner outside, Rutte said. Sex workers too will be able to start working again ‘as the last of the contact professions,’ the prime minister said.
Amusement parks and zoos will also be able to open their doors from May 19, as well as gyms and swimming pools, if they follow strict protocols and limit numbers, the prime minister said.
However, because the legislation to introduce compulsory testing for admittance to museums and sports events has not yet been passed by the upper house of parliament, they will remain closed a while longer. Open air museums will able to open, with limits on numbers.
Ministers will take a final decision about a further relaxation of the rules on Monday, May 17 and much still depends on what happens to the infection rate and hospital figures in the intervening period.
In particular, the impact of the King’s Day festivities still needs to be fully felt, Rutte said. In Amsterdam, for example, 17 new big clusters have been identified involving dozens of cases at the same time, he said.
The government’s Outbreak Management Team has said that hospital admissions, including intensive care, must be down 20% this week in order for the changes to go ahead. They currently range between 10% and 20% and are not yet robust enough to allow a further relaxation, according to public health institute RIVM.
Ministers also plan to decide within the next two weeks if secondary schools can reopen fully, while ditching the 1.5 metre rule, and will ask the OMT for new recommendations. Secondary schools are currently partially open and pupils are still having online lessons because of the social distancing requirements.
The secondary school council VO-raad and pupils’ union Laks on Tuesday called on ministers to open up schools fully again, ‘otherwise there is a risk they may not open fully this academic year’. The school holidays start in seven weeks’ time.
The recommendation not to travel abroad is also being lifted from May 15, health minister Hugo de Jonge said.
From then, travel to countries with a green or yellow risk level will be allowed, as long as people follow the coronavirus regulations in those countries. ‘But bear in mind that that other countries may also refuse entry to people from the Netherlands because they regard us as a high risk country,’ De Jonge said.
The minister also said that he expects the coronavirus vaccination may become an annual event and that orders have already been placed for vaccines in 2022 and 2023.
The quarantine rules, which have not yet been enacted in law, could also be kept for people from a very high risk country, he said. In addition, he said, he hoped to be able to ditch the 1.5 metre social distancing rule in the autumn.
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