Rutte: Coronavirus rules could get stricter before Christmas; Some experiments ready for January
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said during a press conference on Tuesday that the government is considering tightening up restrictions again after a week of increasing coronavirus infections. He ruled out the possibility of expanding permissible group sizes and household guest limits in time for Christmas and New Year's, as the number of infections and hospitalizations were rising, and the number of daily intensive care admissions for Covid-19 was more than double what the Cabinet had hoped: an average of ten per day.
"We are now at a crossroads. Either we together ensure that the figures go in the right direction, or the figures continue to rise. Then I will not rule out that we have to enforce even stricter measures before Christmas," Rutte said. This would be needed to prevent a third wave of infections during the holidays, he stated. "Of course nobody wants that. Let us make the best possible use of the Christmas period to comply with the measures."
The Prime Minister pointed out that neighboring countries are also discussing stricter restrictions. It emerged on Tuesday that advisors in Germany were advocating for a full lockdown in that country to break the second wave of infections.
Rutte encouraged people to stay home as much as possible, follow hygiene guidelines, and to do all Christmas shopping alone. Health Minister Hugo de Jonge stood next to Rutte, and said it all comes down to people's behavior. "Ultimately, it is about compliance rather than enforcement. That we consider for ourselves whether or not we really need to go out and about," De Jonge said.
"Maybe we'll get a little more space by mid-January. That is still possible, but we have to earn that together." Should the intensive care figures fall to a rolling average of ten, Rutte said it might be possible to reopen bars, cafes and restaurants to some degree for the first time since mid-October.
"The hospitality industry is closed everywhere in Europe, because that is a sector where you often meet in a small space. That is why one of the measures was unfortunately the closure of the catering industry," he said. Earlier in the day, RTL Nieuws reported on an internal memo from the Ministry of Economic Affairs which suggested infections could go down if restaurants were allowed to reopen. Hospitality association KHN said if allowed, their restauranteurs could safely and efficiently reopen within days.
He acknowledged that the hospitality industry has carried out many preparations to be able to reopen their businesses. "We will be looking at what more is needed in restaurants and cafes," he said, and said they would also keep in mind differences between locations which serve alcohol and businesses which do not.
But with nearly 10 thousand people having died from Covid-19 this year, Rutte reflected on the thousands of empty chairs at Christmas tables around the country because of coronavirus. He expressed empathy, saying, "This year, Christmas is extra important. It has been a tough year, full of loss and mourning." However, he continued, it was simply not possible to allow more than three guests in a household per day, saying that the partial lockdown must continue further.
That could change next year, he said, with the government looking into how people may be afforded more freedom while preventing the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. "In January we are going to run a few tightly controlled pilot projects to see what is needed to start up again. We will do this locally and very controlled. Think for example of a trial with theater performances with a larger audience or with supporters in football stadiums," he said.
The Outbreak Management Team was also looking into expanding team sport participation so that people up to 27 years of age can participate. Currently, that is limited to people up to age 18.
"I think everyone is completely done with this. In any case, I am. Nevertheless, we have to persevere," Rutte said.