Rutte: Secondary schools could open in March; Curfew under evaluation
Secondary schools in the Netherlands could open their doors to students at the beginning of March with more enforced social distancing, said Mark Rutte during a press conference on Tuesday. The outgoing prime minister said the Cabinet has also asked for more advice about the effectiveness of all current lockdown measures, including the curfew which he said was still set to expire in the early morning hours of February 10.
Rutte said the main concern now was the rapid advance of coronavirus mutations in the Netherlands, with the public health institute RIVM saying earlier in the day that two-thirds of all SARS-CoV-2 infections last week were likely tied to the B117 variant of the virus which originated in the United Kingdom. "The calculations point towards a third wave that will inevitably hit us," Rutte stated.
For that reason, the current lockdown will continue at least until March 2. Non-essential stores will be allowed to let customers pick up goods reserved or purchased more than four hours in advance via phone or internet.
Outgoing Health Minister Hugo de Jonge also said he expected that the Netherlands would catch up to other European countries in terms of vaccinating the public faster. "But we are, and this applies to the whole of Europe, dependent on the [vaccine] deliveries. We will receive considerably less than expected in the first half of this quarter, and in the coming months we must also prepare for disappointing deliveries."
He said he hoped that more people in vulnerable health will have been inoculated by that point. "By the end of this week we will start inviting people who are over 80, living at home" for a vaccination, De Jonge said.
As of Tuesday, the country has vaccinated an estimated 376 thousand people, or just over two percent of the population. The government said that 1.3 million more vaccine doses expected over the next six weeks.
For the time being, the Sputnik V vaccine developed in Russia, believed to be over 91 percent effective in preventing Covid-19, will not be part of the Dutch approach to handling the pandemic. "Then they will first have to apply for admission to the European market at the EMA," said De Jonge. "I don't know if they are going to do that."
Secondary school doors to stay shut at least until March 1
Secondary school students will still have to wait to re-enter their classrooms for about a month, until after the February holiday break has finished. Rutte said that more information about this and a final decision would be announced towards the end of February, potentially at a press conference on February 23.
Currently, secondary schools are still open for students taking exams, and students who require additional assistance or care. In some cases more students will be welcome sooner to determine if new guidelines from the RIVM can cut down on the spread of the virus in that environment.
Primary schools set to open; Students will get tested when a classmate is infected with coronavirus
Primary schools, special education, and daycares will be allowed to reopen their doors on Monday after nearly eight weeks of a shutdown.
"Adults usually get the virus from other adults, not from children," Rutte told reporters about the decision to allow primary school students to return to the classroom. He also shed more light on the additional precautions that the Cabinet put in place to open schools, while trying to prevent infection figures from rising as a result. "If a child gets a positive test, their entire class or group will have to quarantine, and will be tested on day five. We will also conduct more intensive testing and source and contact research."
Earlier, Cabinet ministers also said that educators would likely get more access to rapid testing for the viral infection.
Curfew update: February 10 expiration under discussion
"We are seeing that it is quiet on the streets after 9 p.m. That is yet more proof that the vast majority of the Dutch keep the rules," Rutte said of the curfew, now in effect for 11 days. That duration, however, has not been long enough to say if the restriction has helped reduce infections in the country.
After a consistent fall in coronavirus infections since December 22, the average number of new infections hit a three-month low on Tuesday. This could still surge back up again because of more highly contagious variants of the virus, the RIVM said earlier in the day. An estimated 128 people will catch the viral infection from 100 people contagious with the B117 variant of the virus.
Because of that, it was not clear if the curfew could be scrapped from February 10 at 4:30 a.m., as was previously hoped. "The curfew is intended to give the virus an extra punch, an extra downwards push," Rutte said.
The Cabinet wants the Outbreak Management Team which has been advising the government to again examine the current lockdown measures in the country to determine if they are needed and effective. "Because of the great concerns, we are asking the OMT to advise again on the entire package of measures," Rutte said.
"We expect that advice at the end of this week." He said the Cabinet could update the public on the curfew early next week.
Roadmap back from lockdown re-introduced
During the press conference, Rutte and De Jonge introduced a new roadmap to guide the Netherlands out of the lockdown. Where the roadmap introduced last year was supposed to be enforced at a more regional level, the new guide will call for the national government to determine and enforce regional restrictions.
"The way back is careful, with small steps," De Jonge said.
Restrictions at each level have been tightened up, with all levels requiring a ban on drinking alcohol in public from midnight through 6 a.m., and the "vigilant" level one permitting a maximum of eight people per home visit per day. Previously, there was no maximum. As a security region advances past that to "worrisome", "serious" and to level 4, "very serious", the residents will be subject to increasingly strict restrictions until both the number of new infections goes down and pressure on the healthcare system relaxes.
The maximum number of household guests falls to one per day at level 4, and a curfew may be introduced, similar to the current lockdown measures in the Netherlands. When several regions are placed at the "very serious" level, stricter rules will be enforced across the entire country.
Ultimately, De Jonge will determine which of four risk levels will apply to each of the 25 security regions on a weekly basis. This will be decided after consultation with the heads of the regions, and advisors from public health institute RIVM, municipal health service GGD and government officials.
De besmettingen dalen, maar nieuwe varianten van het coronavirus winnen terrein. Dat is zorgelijk, want deze varianten zijn besmettelijker en kunnen tot een nieuwe golf leiden. Daarom wordt de lockdown verlengd.— Rijksoverheid (@Rijksoverheid) February 2, 2021
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