Rutte: Primary schools could reopen Feb. 8; Lockdown exit plan being prepared
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it was still possible for primary schools in the Netherlands to open their doors and begin in-person classroom lessons on Monday, February 8, but it would depend on a final report from the Outbreak Management Team on the spread of new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus among children. Schools in the Netherlands have been closed since mid-December.
More information about the schools, and a possible new roadmap to re-open other sectors, will be elaborated on during a press conference Tuesday night with Rutte and Health Minister Hugo de Jonge. A draft of the plan was already under review, he said.
"If the spread among small children is not much worse with that new virus than with that old virus, then we would very much like to open primary schools," Rutte stated during his regular weekly press conference on Friday. The primary concern this month was the B117 mutation of the virus, a highly contagious variant thought to have originated in the United Kingdom which caused a cluster of infections centered around a primary school in Lansingerland, Zuid-Holland.
"This is currently being investigated and as soon as we know that we will also know whether you can safely open primary schools. We hope to learn more about it this weekend, or early next week."
Rutte was repeatedly pressed on the question, as earlier Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra had said he could not imagine a situation where the primary schools remained closed after February 8. "But that is why we want to be sure. We need the advice [from the OMT] to see, what that virus, that new virus, does. We really have to weigh that very precisely, this new variant, when it is spread among young children."
With regard to reopening other portions of the country, the outgoing prime minister said he wanted to avoid repeating mistakes made during the summer when national restrictions were quickly relaxed, and more targeted local restrictions did not work as planned. More about this plan will be revealed on Tuesday, he said.
"So that roadmap has all those points adjusted. At least, that is what we are working on," he stated. However, he said it will not necessarily define what sectors can open when infections or hospitalizations drop below a specific level. "Unfortunately it will not be that black and white," he said, noting that the situation is complex and each decision must be measured carefully.
"Suppose you say ... a certain sector can open up, but as a result you still cannot receive anyone at home. We know that many people in the Netherlands are lonely. Then you ultimately have to weigh that choice politically. You have to do that every time."