Dutch lockdown extended: Curfew under consideration, Schools could open early; PM: Don’t Travel
The hard lockdown approach in the Netherlands since December 15 to combat the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus will continue until at least February 9. Further, the ruling Dutch Cabinet will definitely consider the option of imposing a curfew in the Netherlands to make a deeper dent in the number of new coronavirus infections in the country, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said during a nationally televisies press conference on Tuesday night.
“A curfew is a drastic measure that no one is hoping for,” Rutte said. He said that the Outbreak Management Team has said the curfew could have a favorable impact, but the Cabinet must also take into account the difficulty of the current lockdown situation for many people. “That is why there is a lot to be said for getting the maximum effect. We are going to ask the OMT for urgent advice on what a curfew can bring us."
Rutte said he expected to receive updated advice on the subject of a curfew from the OMT this weekend, and the full Cabinet could discuss the issue next week.
The extension of the lockdown was called for because the coronavirus infection numbers have not fallen fast enough, and out of concern of the B117 coronavirus mutation, a highly-contagious variant of the virus which caused a spike in infections in the United Kingdom late last year. “Due to the great concern about the British variant, we have to look at what we can do extra. There is a lot of resistance to a curfew, also from myself,” Rutte said.
“This variant is now responsible for a small percentage of the infections, but it is expected that this will increase,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge at the news event. “We have to slow down the spread of the British variant.”
“My fear is that we will now end up in the same situation with the new variant, where the numbers explode. You cannot have such a dangerous virus here, which is why we are looking at extra measures,” Rutte stated.
“Vaccination is the trump card we have in our hands to get out of this misery,” De Jonge said.
No traveling until Spring
Rutte also stressed that members of the public should not travel for at least the next six to ten weeks. The government believes that each trip abroad increases the risk of more infections domestically. “Stay in the Netherlands until March. Do not book trips, unless it is due to enormous economic importance or serious family circumstances," he said.
In a statement released during the press conference, the government said that travel for unnecessary reasons should not happen until after March. Serious family circumstances, or work which can neither be postponed nor performed remotely is acceptable, the Cabinet said. “Travelers who return to the Netherlands after a necessary trip must be able to present a negative coronavirus test. In addition, they must always be quarantined for 10 days upon return,” the statement noted.
“If it were up to me, there would be a complete flight ban. But that is difficult, because goods must be transported and travel must be allowed in extreme cases,” Rutte said. “Anyone who is now thinking about vacation, however, is very antisocial.”
Primary schools could open early; People should not travel before March
Primary schools and child care services could open back up on January 25, the Prime Minister confirmed. This will only happen happen at the conclusion of a study on the spread of B117 in the municipality of Lansingerland, where the viral strain swept through a primary school. So far, 100 infections of B117 have been discovered across the Netherlands, half of which were linked to a school.
Most of those were connected to two schools which share a building in Lansingerland. The GGD and Erasmus Medical Center have asked all resIdents of the municipality above the age of two to get tested for the B117 variant. “We do not yet know exactly what the British variant does. What we know mainly comes from England. We first want to find out more about how this is developing in the Netherlands, before we make decisions, like about the schools,” De Jonge said.
“We hope to be able to report more about the schools next week, Rutte added calling education a priority. “We want the schools to reopen. But that will only be possible if we see next week that the figures give cause to do so."
Secondary school students will now be required to maintain a safe social distance from each other, even in classrooms and during vocational training. While the schools remained closed during the lockdown, they have been open for exams, trainings, and for students in a vulnerable or urgent home situation. Last week, members of the Outbreak Management Team conceded that they were in error this summer when they advised against forcing secondary school students to keep a safe distance from each other during school.
More financial support to be made available
The extension of the lockdown policy means that the non-essential stores, close contact services, and publicly-accessible buildings, which were ordered closed on December 15, will remain shut. Bars and restaurants have not been allowed to host customers since the middle of October.
The lockdown decision was unlikely to be re-evaluated before February 2. Rutte pledged more financial support for the entrepreneurs who have been hit the hardest by the lockdown. “The socio-economic consequences are terrible, of course. The stories of those affected are heartbreaking. We cannot alleviate all the pain for all entrepreneurs, but especially now that we see a light at the end of the tunnel, it is important that we help business and workers as much as possible through this crisis.”
Rutte said that members of his Cabinet will present their plan for more financial support within days.
Vaccination progress in the Netherlands
On Tuesday, the Netherlands reported that the daily total of infections fell below 5,000 for the first time in six weeks. The seven-day moving average dipped below 7,100 reaching its lowest point since the week before the lockdown. It was too soon for this to be due to the recent introduction of coronavirus vaccines in the country.
”There is a light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine, but that will take a few more months,” Rutte said. De Jonge said that the elderly in nursing homes will start being vaccinated on Monday. He said he wanted to see the most vulnerable in society vaccinated in the spring, everyone over 60 by the summer, and the entire adult population by the autumn.
Since vaccinations began in the Netherlands on January 6, just under 44 thousand people in the Netherlands have been vaccinated against Covid-19. A handful of the regional branches of health service GGD have inoculated 6,400 people working in care facilities, a GGD spokesperson told NL Times on Tuesday. All 26 mass vaccination locations will be operational from Friday.
The other 37,500 people vaccinated work in intensive care units, emergency rooms, 24-hour urgent care, and ambulances. They were vaccinated at hospitals, a spokesperson for the LNAZ told NL Times.
De Jonge was concerned about those who refuse to follow the current coronavirus restrictions or cannot comply with a quarantine order for various reasons. He pledged assistance to help the latter. “We know that a quarter of the people who test positive do not stay at home and, for example, simply go to the supermarket,” he said. “Tonight we are reiterating the importance of adhering to the measures, especially if you test positive”