Rutte: Schools could close, curfew possible in areas with most coronavirus cases
NL Times has also published a full list of all restrictions that are in effect from November 4 at 10 p.m.
Three weeks after the Netherlands entered a partial lockdown to curb the second wave of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infections, the country is on the right track to getting the situation under control, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said at a press conference on Tuesday. However, the situation is not improving fast enough, which has led the Cabinet to impose stricter restrictions on the Dutch populace, re-introduce the recommendation that people remain at home as much as possible, and to threaten residents of areas which are not improving fast enough with tougher restrictions.
The government said it was considering very strict measures in regions which have been hardest hit by the crisis. "We are seeing greater regional differences. For regions with long-term high figures, we are considering a curfew, a further restriction of the retail trade and closing schools," Rutte stated. "In the coming days and weeks we will look at which regions continue to stand out. Rotterdam really stands out now, but we do not know how it will develop."
The new restrictions will take effect at 10 p.m. on Wednesday and will last for two weeks, including a rule that a maximum of two people from other households are allowed to visit a home in a single day, and outside groups of more than two people from different households are forbidden. Violators will be subject to a fine. Face masks will also be required in public indoor spaces, likely from December 1, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said.
The Cabinet has also ordered that publicly-accessible buildings like amusement parks, cinemas, community centers, museums, and live theaters be closed, as a way of reducing the amount of movements people make between locations. That also includes swimming pools, sex clubs and zoos, but not most fitness centers which can remain open only for individual training. Group fitness classes must be cancelled. Weddings will be limited to 20 people. Funerals will be capped at 30 people starting on November 9.
People can still go to their workplaces, but the government has strongly advised against it. "It is difficult to enforce working from home, but we notice that employers are looking at it. We want to encourage people to work from home much more. That is also happening, but it could be even better," Rutte said.
As expected, people are also being advised not to travel during the winter holidays. "The urgent advice is not to travel abroad until mid-January, unless it is really necessary," he said. The reasoning is not only the advice that everyone should remain home as much as possible, but also that winter sports vacations played a major role in spreading the virus at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. The travel advisory does not include the Caribbean portion of the Dutch kingdom, because it is not considered foreign territory.
What comes next?
Following that, the country will return to the restrictions of the current partial lockdown, Rutte said, which includes the closure of all bars, restaurants and cafes. That will last until at least mid-December. Within two to three weeks, the Cabinet hoped to provide a clearer picture about what will be in store for the Dutch public after that time, De Jonge said.
Rutte said he did not want to repeat the mistake of "scaling down too quickly" as happened in May and June.
"If we look at the figures with a clear head for a moment, things are not going badly, but certainly not good enough. The contamination figures have to fall faster, and [the situation] in the hospitals it is sometimes plunging or drowning," he stated. Because of the situation in healthcare, which could have three thousand admitted Covid-19 patients in treatment within a week, the prime minister called on the public to stand in solidarity with those in vulnerable health, particularly those without the coronavirus disease who desperately need to be able to access a hospital for their healthcare needs.
Recent improvements to the situation in the Netherlands include a drop in the number of infections and Covid-19 hospital patient admissions showing signs of stabilization. The percentage of people testing positive also fell over the last week, and the overall spread of the virus measured by its reproduction number has continued to decrease over the past month.
"The number of infections is finally falling, but we are still taking extra measures. That's just the way it is," De Jonge said. "Every day there are still too many people infected; 64 thousand in the past week. That is still too many."
Rutte noted that the data suggests that there will be 50 percent more hospitalized coronavirus patients during this second wave than there were during the first wave.
Implementing a complete and total lockdown was not necessary at the current stage, the Prime Minister said, but the healthcare experts at the hospitals made it clear to the Cabinet that more needed to be done to relieve the stress there. "We also had heated discussions about this in the Cabinet. I am also pleased about that, because the choices we are making are extremely complex," he said.