Critical everyone stay home this weekend: Dutch PM; Cops ticket cars at nature sites

A gate blocking access to a parking location at the dunes in Soest.
A gate blocking access to a parking location at the dunes in Soest. March 27, 2020Gemeente Soest

Prime Minister Mark Rutte spoke confidently on Friday about the measures put in place by the Dutch government to curb the spread of the Covid-19 variant of coronavirus, but he said it was "crucial" that the public continue adhering to social distancing rules. The approaching weekend was expected to be mostly sunny and chilly, with similar weather the prior weekend convincing masses of people to abandon the national health advice and form crowds at popular nature sites.

“The measures are clear,” he told reporters at the weekly press conference in the Hague, “stand 1.5 meters away [from others], and stay home whenever possible.” He reiterated that the “intelligent lockdown” in place in the Netherlands would remain the case for the foreseeable future, and that only people showing signs of illness, even as minor as a runny nose, should be required to remain home under all circumstances.

The Prime Minister says that he found it “good news” that “the streets have become more empty” since last week. He nevertheless advised the public to remain indoors insofar as they can.

This comes as measures are being taken by authorities across the Netherlands to prevent people from crowding, including serving fines to people for gathering in large groups or for defying local rules. The municipality of Soest, for example, has closed parking lots to prevent people from using them to access the dunes nearby, after large crowds had gathered there last weekend. Police served fines to drivers who attempted to park in spite of the ban.

Security and Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus asked people to be more cautious and strict for the time being. "We must adhere to a much more disciplined and duller life,” he said. For those who most enjoy cycling for sport with their friends, like he does, the minister said, "Go alone, and organize something after the crisis."

Rutte gave attention to the direction that the measures would be taking in the coming weeks. “We will see in the days ahead the exact effects of the measures we have taken,” Rutte says, pointing out that the “most important priority” at this stage is to ensure that the intensive care units at hospitals across the country remain prepared and operating at capacity.

“On Wednesday there will be another ministerial committee meeting on crisis control,” Rutte said, this time to “determine how we will go further” with a majority of the measures that have been put in place until April 6.

Rutte also answered questions on the economy, pointing out that the Netherlands is headed for a recession. “When we look at all of the possible scenarios,” the Prime Minister said, “we see that we are predicting a shrinkage of the economy.”

“However, I can assure you that we are trying to limit the economic impact as much as possible,” pointing to the 10 - 20 billion euro emergency economic stimulus package that the government is currently in the process of finalizing.