Three guests allowed at Christmas, even if Covid rules are tightened, Dutch PM says
In a press conference earlier this week, Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned that the coronavirus restrictions may need to be tightened over the festive season if infections continue to rise. In parliament on Wednesday, he added that the Christmas days will be "spared". Netherlands residents will be allowed to have up to three guests at home over Christmas, as is currently the case.
The government will discourage Christmas shopping in stores as much as possible in the coming period, Rutte said in the parliamentary debate. The cabinet wants to prevent crowds like on Black Friday nearly two weeks ago. Public health institute RIVM suspects that the crowded shopping streets and centers may have played a role in the now increasing number of coronavirus infections.
Almost the entire Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, also wants to prevent a repeat of Black Friday. PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher said that he was disappointed in the approach presented by the government in a press conference on Tuesday. "The message was: things are going badly and we are doing nothing. That is not wise," he said.
A number of MPs wondered whether the government wasn't moving too slow in tightening the rules to curb the spread of the virus. The Prime Minister said that the cabinet was paying close attention to the infection figures and that the next few days will decide what must be done.
Rutte said that Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus is working with the mayors that head the Netherlands' 25 security regions to draw up a plan of action against crowds. Possible measures could include things like closing parking areas, imposing one-way walking traffic in shopping areas, and increased supervision. Grapperhaus and Minister Eric Wiebes of Economic Affairs are also talking to the retail sector, to get them to comply more strictly with the rules for the maximum number of shoppers in store.
CDA leader Pieter Heerma, and a number of other MPs, wanted to know why people can flock to garden centers and hardware stores, but restaurants and cafes are still closed. PVV leader Geert Wilders called for the catering industry to be reopened immediately. He referred to an internal memo from the Ministry of Economic Affairs that leaked earlier this week, stating that opening cafes and restaurants could be good for infection figures. The cabinet called that an "incomplete" analysis, but Wilders considers it "a logical story and the truth".
Other parties, like the PvdA and VVD, accused Wilders of giving catering entrepreneurs false hopes. But they also want the government to do more for struggling catering entrepreneurs.
Economic Minister Wiebes said that the government is already doing enough for catering entrepreneurs, especially now that a new support package was presented that will reimburse more of their fixed costs. "The government cannot compensate everything," Wiebes said. He pointed out that catering entrepreneurs also incur less costs now that they're closed, and they receive high amounts in compensation. "A cafe will receive an average of 25 thousand euros in support this quarter and for a medium-sized restaurant it is more than 100 thousand euros," he said.