"Everyone stay home" if sick, Many events banned: Dutch government tightens coronavirus rules

Bruno Bruins, Mark Rutte, and Jaap van Dissel at a press conference introducing new rules regarding coronavirus.
Healthcare Minister Bruno Bruins, Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and RIVM Director Jaap van Dissel at a press conference introducing new rules regarding coronavirus. March 12, 2020RVD

As the rate of coronavirus infections continues to grow in the Netherlands, the Dutch government imposed stricter advice to deal with the spread of the virus. The new rules call on anyone in the country to work from home as much as possible especially if they have any respiratory symptoms or a fever, for medical personnel, first responders, and essential workers to cancel travel to countries abroad, and a ban on all events where over a hundred people are to meet in one place. 

The new rules are in place until March 31 for the entire country, including Noord-Brabant, the province hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak. People in vulnerable health and elderly people should avoid large groups and using public transportation, and Netherlands residents were told to limit contact with those susceptible to illness to limit their chances of exposure.

"Everyone in the Netherlands: stay at home with complaints of a cold, cough, sore throat or fever. Avoid social contact. Do not call your doctor until complaints get worse," the government said in a statement.  All public locations where more than a hundred people gather will be affected by the event ban. It includes "museums, concert halls, theaters, sports clubs and sports competitions."

Prime Minister Mark Rutte called on all people in the Netherlands to cooperate with the new rules. "The impact is greatest if everyone sticks to what we decided on today," he said at a press conference after an emergency meeting of his Cabinet. "People can still go outdoors, but we are asking for some very specific things," he said. 

"People all over the Netherlands are called upon to work from home as much as possible," said Healthcare Minister Bruno Bruins. "Do not hold meetings with more than 100 people," he stated.

The rules were a little different for medical personnel, Rutte said. "Most people must stay home when you feel [flu] symptoms or a fever." But healthcare staff, he said, should only stay at home if they have a fever combined with either a cough or shortness of breath. "Because we so badly need them."

Prime Minister Mark Rutte also called on higher education programs to cancel classes in lecture halls, and to find alternative means for teaching students. "The urgent advice is to offer online lectures," he said.

However, daycare services, primary schools and high schools were not going to be ordered closed, Rutte said, as children and young people are not in an urgent risk group. "The social consequences would then be too great, because parents would also have to stay at home. They work for the police, the fire brigade, [and municipal health service] GGD," he stated. 

"For schools: if someone has health complaints you have to stay at home," said Jaap van Dissel, the Director of the RIVM. "That is a very important thing."

When asked if the Netherlands was too late, or too lax, in its approach to the coronavirus crisis, Rutte replied that all decisions have been made with the scientific insights available at that moment. "In crises like this, you have to make 100 percent of the decisions with 50 percent of the knowledge, and bear the consequences."

Similarly, Rutte left the door open for even stricter rules to come into force. "We do not exclude the possibility that more measures will be added in the following days." 

Increasing pressure to develop tighter restrictions

Pressure was mounting on the Dutch government to take more measures against the spread of Covid-19. In parliament, the PVV and SP questioned the government's policy, pointing out that other countries are doing much more against the virus. 

SP parliamentarian Maarten Hijink wants Minister Bruno Bruins for Medical Care to "make clear why our measures deviate from what is done elsewhere and why measures are limited to Brabant so far," according to the Telegraaf. 

The PVV called on the government to take further steps in the fight against the virus. "People all over the Netherlands - just like in Brabant - should stay at home for the time being and in social isolation. Close universities and schools. Prohibit all events. Avoid groups," PVV leader Geert Wilders said to the Telegraaf. 

On Thursday the general association of school leaders AVS called for schools in the Netherlands to close. "It is inconceivable that schools are still open. Look at Italy. We must prevent the spread of the virus in both primary and secondary education," AVS chairman Peter van Haren said to NOS.

Multiple online petitions were launched to achieve the same thing. One was for Deltion College in Zwolle to close after a teacher was diagnosed with the virus. The teacher is in home isolation, but colleagues and pupils who had contact with them can still go to school, according to De Stentor. Another petition to close all schools in the country was signed over thousand times as of 1:45 p.m. on Thursday. 

On Thursday morning Minister Stef Blok of Foreign Affairs told NOS from Indonesia that he does not think the Netherlands is taking too few measures. "The assessment of the measures we have to take really lies with the experts, the doctors at RIVM. If they indicate that we need to take stricter measures, we must take them, but on the basis of extra advice."

Coronavirus situation in The Netherlands today

So far, medical personnel have tested 6,000 people in the Netherlands for coronavirus. Another 11,000 samples are still being processed, a spokesperson for national health agency RIVM told NL Times.

Noord-Brabant is currently the Dutch province most affected by the coronavirus, counting in the Netherlands, counting 273 residents among the 614 positive test cases in the Netherlands. The reported total is an increase of 50 cases in Noord-Brabant over Wednesday's totals, and an increase of 111 for the country. The RIVM advised Noord-Brabant residents to stay at home if they show even mild cold-like symptoms, the province called on residents to work from home as much as possible, and the mayors of Tilburg, Eindhoven and Den Bosch called for large events to be canceled and for people to refrain from social contacts for a week. 

There were also 80 cases in the Utrecht province, 68 in Zuid-Holland, 53 in Limburg, and 48 in Gelderland, RIVM said. 

Among the 614 patients, 252 were infected in the Netherlands, and 239 were infected abroad including 193 who caught the virus in Italy. Another 26 patients likely acquired the virus on a trip to Austria, seven in Germany, and a smattering of patients were infected in Belgium, Mauritus, South Korea and Spain.

It is unclear how 123 people acquired the virus, and most of those patients reside in Noord-Brabant. Over a hundred Dutch patients work in healthcare, the RIVM said.

The U.S. Entry Ban

Although U.S. President Donald Trump announced a ban on non-U.S. citizens entering the country from the Schengen Region, including the Netherlands, the situation was not clear down to the smallest details, acknowledged the American ambassador in The Hague. He said he would meet with management at KLM to address questions about pilots and flight crews, and if they will be exempted from the entry ban.

"We believe that the number one role of the President is to keep the American people safe," said U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra in an interview on NOS. "Of course it's going to have an economic impact."

The entry ban is for anyone who has been in the 26 Schengen Countries in the European Union in the past 14 days. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it would develop a plan for allowing American citizens back into the country as an exemption to the entry ban before the weekend.

The Department of Homeland Security overnight did not make it imediately clear if American citizens and their families could face a quarantine period, or if they could fly back to any American airport.