More Covid restrictions relaxed, allowing larger gatherings, events, sex work

Mark Rutte and Sing language interpreter Irma Sluis
Mark Rutte and Sing language interpreter Irma Sluis at the coronavirus update news conference on June 24, 2020RVD / Minister-PresidentFacebook

With reporting by Byron Mühlberg.

A large number of restrictions, such as the current maximum number of 30 people to gather together, the closure of gyms, saunas, casinos, sex work and contact sports are set to be lifted from July 1, Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced at a press conference on Wednesday. Local governments will have more control over the restarting of carnivals and events, because of the permit application process that those organizers will be required to complete. However nightclubs will still remain closed likely into September, he said.

Rutte's announcement, the last such weekly Covid-19 press conference to be scheduled, comes as the Netherlands witnessed its first day with no recorded deaths since the pandemic took hold. "We have had our first day without coronavirus deaths. We did this together," said Rutte. It led to the hastening of the phased reopening plan that was announced last month. 

He stressed that people continue to maintain social distancing measures, and remain vigilant with personal hygiene, saying that the fate of future restrictions rests firmly in the hands of the country's residents. "We have known months of suffering, loss, and isolation. Let's not forget that."

Rutte said the Netherlands would have had to endure 135 thousand hospital admissions had the coronavirus measures not been introduced. He then proceeded to further relax those limits. The GGD's widespread testing program saw a large expansion in the number of people being tested since June 1, and the number of hospitalizations, deaths and ICU patients continued to slump across the country this week.

"Although we are relaxing the rules, we must avoid a second wave of contamination at all costs. At the same time, we must also be prepared for a new wave of contamination," said Health Minister Hugo de Jonge.

Keeping physical distance will still remain the norm, at least until a vaccine is available, Rutte stated. "If abandoned, you run a great risk as a population. Then the country can be locked down again, and the economy will be locked down again, and you may get large numbers of infections again."

However, when asked about how this affects sex work, the prime minister stated, "We had extensive discussions with the RIVM about this, but all sexual positions are possible."

The Prime Minister's measures comes as the most recent easing of restrictions as Netherlands continues to emerge from months under a so-called 'intelligent lockdown'. They appear to mark a hastening of certain aspects of the phased reopening plan.

Limited capacity for gatherings largely lifted

The current limits on the maximum number of people allowed to gather together will be increased to a maximum of 100 patrons in indoor locations from July 1, provided that people continue to remain at least 1.5 meters apart from one another, Rutte announced. The new rule mainly affects cafes, restaurants, cultural institutions, libraries and shops. Customers inside cafes and restaurants will be required to be seated.

Locations with fixed seating, where reservations and health check-ups are carried out in advance, can fill up to capacity with no maximum number of patrons, provided people maintain a safe distance from each other. This includes live theater venues and cinemas, but could also include open floor music venues provided they set up seating for visitors. The maximum capacity for museums and monuments where visitors move from room to room will have a maximum capacity based on their building's surface area.

Outdoor locations can take a maximum of 250 people, but without reservations or the health questionnaire. Terraces no longer need to force a distance of 1.5 meters between tables as long as cough shields are installed to protect patrons.

The exception to this includes zoos, theme parks, and other outdoor locations, which have no maximum number of visitors as long as social distancing is enforced.

Events and festivals will also be allowed provided organizers go through a permitting process that could take a month and a half for them to receive approval. "There is no longer a maximum number of people for performances and festivals outside," the government confirmed. "For performances where reservations and the health check are not made in advance, a maximum of 100 visitors applies indoors and a maximum of 250 visitors outdoors."

Football, chanting and singing

Paid professional football will be played again in front of an audience beginning in September, the government officials announced. However, attendees will not be allowed to take part in the usual way.

"Chants, loud singing or screaming in a group is not allowed," the government said. The prime minister pointed to this as being one manner in which the virus may spread more easily. An air horn was recommended as an alternative to screaming when something exciting happens during a match.

Actors, comedians and dancers only have to maintain social distancing on stage as much as is possible, giving them more ability to put on a wider variety of shows. Singers, choirs, and musical ensembles will be allowed to rehearse and perform, but under an as-yet unpublished set of rules from public health agency RIVM.

More passengers allowed on public and private transit

The new easing of restrictions will affect public transport in the Netherlands, according to Rutte, which will be allowed to return to full capacity from July 1, up from its current 40 percent capacity. The eased restriction applies to all buses, trains, metro systems and trams in the country on the condition that passengers continue to wear a face mask at all times while on board.

Public transit passengers will also no longer be advised to only travel when necessary, as the system will be opened up for normal use. Since the beginning of June, many transit operator have returned to a normal schedule.

Taxi drivers and bus drivers will also be allowed to allow their vehicles to fill up to capacity, on the condition that passengers make reservations in advance, and wear a face mask. The same rules apply for normal passenger cars, with drivers who want to give a ride to a friend or colleague.

Secondary schools and higher education

Secondary schools in the Netherlands will fully reopen after the summer holiday, Rutte announced, with students no longer being required to keep their distance from each other. However, teachers will still need to maintain a safe distance from their students and coworkers.

The relevant reopening dates vary by location, with secondary schools in the northern region starting up on August 17, in the central region on August 23, and in the south one week later.

"As of the new academic year, more educational activities may again take place at vocational institutions, colleges and universities. Here students will keep 1.5 meters away from others," the government said in a statement.