Netherlands to drop most Covid restrictions on June 26; "A big step" says Rutte
Most coronavirus measures in the Netherlands will be reduced or eliminated starting on June 26, with the remaining set of restrictions focusing entirely on if people can keep a safe physical distance of 1.5 meters away from one another. The obligation for people to wear face masks in indoor public spaces will be dropped, except on public transportation, in airports, and at locations where the distancing requirement cannot be met.
Any remaining coronavirus regulations may be scrapped as early as August 13. At that time the Cabinet will also decide if the distance rule is required at higher eduction institutions and schools.
"This is a special moment. We are in a phase where the emphasis is on what is possible again, and we have earned that together," Prime Minister Mark Rutte stated.
"Everything that is possible at 1.5 meters is allowed again. Without restrictions, closing times, alcohol ban and advice about the number of guests at home and mouth caps in stores," said Rutte when introducing the changes during a press conference on Friday. "Under certain conditions, even the 1.5 meters rule can be released."
Nightclubs will be allowed to open for the first time provided they use the CoronaCheck app to determine either if a customer is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, if they have had a negative coronavirus test within 40 hours of entry, or if they tested positive and recovered from a coronavirus infection within the past six months. Theaters, museums, and other indoor venues will also be allowed to increase their capacity provided they use the app.
Even large video screens will be allowed to be switched back on at cafes and restaurants. "Of course we hope for Oranje in the European Championship final," Rutte said. "Events are possible again from June 30, because of the preparation time that municipalities need."
Additionally, there will be no strict rules about visits at homes, gatherings in the park, or group get-togethers, provided people can maintain distance from each other. People can also sing and shout in groups, which means singing in church will also be permitted again.
However, the authorities will continue to take action when things get out of control. "Enforcement will continue with excesses, if it is visible that people are not adhering to this," Rutte stated.
The Cabinet also agreed that working in the office should be capped at a maximum of 50 percent of work hours, because it is less feasible that people will maintain a safe distance.
Rules like not shaking hands and staying home when flu symptoms present will remain.
"The Netherlands is taking a big step," Rutte said, adding later, "The end of the crisis is in sight.
But is it too soon to relax restrictions?
Both Rutte and Health Minister Hugo de Jonge were pressed about the timing of this announcement and whether it was too early. The Netherlands is considered at the highest risk of any European Union country for coronavirus infections.
"It is not too early. We have asked for very precise advice from the OMT, which says that you cannot actually do anything wrong in the short term. This is a responsible step," Rutte retorted. He said the Cabinet will step in if the situation begins to take a turn for the worse, though analysts consider the Cabinet waited far too long to react to a surging number of coronavirus cases last September and October. "We will always intervene if a deterioration occurs, but we do not expect that to be necessary."
De Jonge added that the models used by the RIVM project that the Netherlands will "go green at the beginning of July," meaning it will be at the EU's lowest risk level.
The politicians also asked that people remain cautious, even when on holiday. "We do not yet know where we will end up in terms of vaccination coverage, whether there will be new variants coming, what happens to returning holidaymakers, whether the vaccines protect against transmitting the virus, and what the seasonal effect is exactly. We will remain extremely vigilant."