Parliament to decide on Covid curfew today
Today the lower house of Dutch parliament will debate on whether or not to implement a curfew in the Netherlands in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. The departing cabinet, based on the advice of experts, considers it essential to prevent a third wave of infections. But whether a majority in the Tweede Kamer is also convinced of that, remains to be seen.
The implementation of a curfew is considered "controversial". As the Rutte III cabinet resigned last week and is now an "outgoing cabinet", it needs parliament's approval on controversial topics. Outgoing cabinets only handle current, day-to-day affairs. In principle, controversial topics are left up to the next cabinet. But as the pandemic is an acute problem, curfew can't be postponed and parliament has to weigh in.
"Nobody wants a curfew. Nobody is cheering. Not me, not Hugo de Jonge, not the whole cabinet," outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a press conference on Wednesday. "We have to brace ourselves one more time, now that all experts are warning of a third wave." In addition to a curfew, the government is further restricting home visits to a maximum of one visitor per day, and banning flights to and from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and South America, where new and more contagious strains of the coronavirus are dominant.
The new strains of the coronavirus are very worrying, Jaap van Dissel of public health institute RIVM said in a briefing to parliament on Wednesday. The strains from South Africa and South America in particular seem to be able to bypass immunity, so it is unclear whether antibodies or vaccines will work on those variants. Van Dissel called these strains "a dark cloud coming towards us", according to NOS.
The question now is whether these warnings, and Rutte's press conference will be enough to convince a parliamentary majority of the need of a curfew. In November, a majority supported a PVV motion against a curfew. Last week, a majority including the D66, FvD, GroenLinks, SP, and PvdA were still against.
"We don't have the luxury of being 100% sure," Rutte said in the press conference on Wednesday. "But we are absolutely convinced that it is necessary." He called a curfew a "severe measure", but one that is essential at this crucial point in the pandemic.
Parties may feel that they have been put on a spot and will therefore resist agreeing to a curfew, political reporter Ron Fresen said to NOS. But on the other hand, they won't want to be held responsible for a spike in infections if they reject the curfew. He expects that parliament will demand a compromise, starting curfew later for example. The government's current plan is for curfew to be in effect from 8:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m.