The Netherlands is relaxing most remaining coronavirus rules from Wednesday but will look again at the infection rates in three weeks time, prime minister Mark Rutte told reporters on Tuesday evening.
‘We are taking a very big step and it feels very odd after two years,’ Rutte said. The decision to make the closing time 10pm for cafes, bars, restaurants and theatres, rather than 8pm as health experts recommended, follows requests from regional safety board chiefs and mayors, he said.
The aim of a uniform closing time, he said, is to make sure there are as few exceptions as possible. ‘After all the campaigns and the emotions, we are looking to go to the limit, he said. ‘It is a real risk.’
From Wednesday, cinemas, theatres, museums, cultural venues and the hospitality sector can reopen their doors, but the 1.5 metre rule remains in force and people must wear a mask when moving around indoors.
The coronavirus pass will also be a requirement for entry, and a maximum capacity of 1,250 will be introduced for mass events.
As expected, the quarantine rules for schools are also being relaxed, to limit the number of classes being sent home.
The measures are being introduced for a six week period but will be reassessed on March 8.
Both Rutte and health minister Ernst Kuipers stressed several times that ‘coronavirus is not a light dose of flu,’ as many people think.
The changes that are being made now could lead to the number of infections topping 100,000 a day, Kuipers said. ‘If you look at the situation in Belgium, France and Denmark, you can see that the infection rates there are 1.5 to twice as high as in the Netherlands, per head of the population,’ he said.
At the same time, hospital admissions are up to five times as high in the Netherlands.
‘If we have more infections, you will end up with more people in hospital,’ Kuipers said.
The use of the 3G coronavirus pass system, which allows people entry to certain locations if they have had a booster, recently recovered from coronavirus or have tested negative, will reduce the infections by up to 15%, Kuipers said, referring to recent research carried out at Delft University of Technology.
Kuipers also disputed recent comments by the top WHO official in Europe, who suggested that the end of the pandemic could be near.
‘It is too early to say if this is the end of the pandemic,’ he said. ‘The virus is not going anywhere and we could get a variant which makes people more ill. Then we will be in a very serious situation.’
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