Thursday 09 February 2023

Rutte regrets not apologising for decision to relax coronavirus rules

Mark Rutte dismissing questions about Hugo de Jonge’s future on Friday. Photo: ANP/Phil Nijhuis

Prime minister Mark Rutte has apologised for relaxing the coronavirus rules too quickly and failing to acknowledge the government’s mistakes at a press conference last week.

‘What we thought was possible turned out not to be,’ he said following a weekend of criticism as the number of daily infections increased nearly tenfold in the space of a week.

Rutte and health minister Hugo de Jonge reimposed several restrictions that were eased at the end of June, including reopening nightclubs to people who provided a negative test on entry.

The test for access system struggled to cope with high demand and proved unreliable, with some youngsters apparently able to get into nightclubs without taking a test by sharing their friends’ digital QR codes.

At Friday’s press conference Rutte brushed away questions about whether De Jonge could stay in post as health minister.

‘Mistakes have clearly been made, but there is no reason whatsoever for a minister to resign. It’s an exaggerated question,’ he said.

De Jonge also insisted that the decision to relax the rules on June 26, earlier than originally planned, was justifiable at the time. ‘Two weeks ago all signals were green,’ he said.

‘The number of infections was falling fast, along with the number of hospital admissions, and vaccination was going – and continues to go – very fast. So it was a logical choice to relax the rules.’

Rutte apologised to journalists on Monday for a ‘bad press conference’. ‘You asked us for self-reflection and it was wrong of us not to provide it.’

On Saturday 10,345 new coronavirus cases were reported by the public health agency RIVM, compared to 1,125 a week earlier. The proportion of positive tests increased over the same period from 4.8% to 14.2%.

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