Rutte: Curfew extended, other restrictions relaxed; "Your behavior matters"
The caretaker Cabinet of the Netherlands has agreed to extend the country's first mandatory curfew since World War II through the early morning hours of March 15, but will relax some restrictions affecting education, retail, close-contact services, and sports for young adults. "With extra space comes extra responsibility," Prime Minister Mark Rutte cautioned during a press conference with Health Minister Hugo de Jonge on Tuesday night. "Your behavior matters," Rutte said, while expressing his displeasure that 25 percent of those who test positive said they still go grocery shopping or take their dog out for a walk.
After initially reflecting on the fact that a year has passed since the Netherlands discovered the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in the country, he said the country was still in an "incredibly difficult" situation due to the continued emergence of more contagious variants of the virus. Despite this, "We are now entering a phase where we are prepared to take a little more risk," he stated.
"The longer the crisis lasts, the harder it is for us," before specifically expressing concern for those dealing with "learning disabilities, loneliness and depression among the elderly and young, entrepreneurs who are struggling." Even though the average number of daily coronavirus infections has increased by five percent since Rutte's last major press conference three weeks ago, the prime minister said it was important that all students get back into the classroom for the sake of their mental health.
High schools, secondary vocational schools, and secondary special education programs will be allowed to let students back in the classroom on a part time basis as of March 1. The students will physically attend their schools at least one day per week, provided that students, staff and teachers keep a distance of 1.5 meters from each other. Schools will be given some flexibility to divide classes.
Two days later, most close-contact professions, such as hair stylists, beauticians, and some massage providers will also be allowed to return to work. Also on March 3, the government will allow people to shop in-person at stores. Retailers will be allowed to have a maximum of two customers per floor at any given time, a maximum of six times per hour. Face masks will be required at these moments.
That same day team sports will also be allowed for everyone up to the age of 27. However, households will still only be allowed one visitor per day, and the curfew could be extended further at the next press conference on March 8. A further extension of the curfew would go beyond the elections in the Netherlands, scheduled from March 15 - 17. Rutte affirmed that voters and polling place workers would be exempt from the curfew.
Rutte and De Jonge both said during the event that if the situation in the Netherlands improves, more restrictions could be lifted, and if the situation worsens, more restrictions could be introduced. The government decided not to relax more lockdown measures because of the potential impact on viral spread and corresponding hospitalizations, even though there are 14 percent fewer ICU patients with Covid-19 than three weeks ago, and that the tracked reproduction value of the coronavirus was below 1.00.