The Netherlands is set to loosen most Covid restrictions but it's still Code Red to the EU
The Netherlands is rumored to be close to relaxing most coronavirus restrictions in the country, with a press conference Friday night set to update the public on coronavirus policy. At the same time, the country is the only one of 27 European Union members to be classified at the "red" risk level by the EU.
“Oh guys, just don’t do it. So close to the finish and then accelerating so hard. For what?” epidemiologist Amrish Baldjoe wrote on Twitter this week when news broke that the Netherlands was likely to abandon the mandatory face mask rule as part of a broad set of lockdown easing measures expected to be implemented on June 26.
Red is the second worst of four levels in the bloc. There are two ways to improve the ranking to achieve the orange level. The first is by having fewer than 200 people per 100 thousand residents test positive for the coronavirus infection at a rate of less than four percent of all those tested over a two-week period. The second is to have fewer than 75 people test positive per capita with a positivity rate of over four percent. For the two-week period that ended Tuesday morning, the Netherlands had 134 people per capita diagnosed with the infection, at a positivity rate of 6.3 percent.
Baldjoe also preached caution because of the delta variant of the coronavirus. Noted Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans pointed it out was likely to become the dominant strain by mid-July, and that the Pfizer and Astra Zeneca vaccines are less effective at preventing serious symptoms of Covid-19 when someone is infected with the delta strain.
“Now that we see in the United Kingdom that the delta variant is causing problems and uncertainty, you would expect the government to take its foot off the gas,” he told Trouw. “But no, we just press the gas pedal down harder. Then I say: take it easy, wait until more people are fully vaccinated.”
An analysis by Volkskrant of figures collected by Oxford University project Our World in Data showed that the Netherlands provided the most Covid-19 vaccine doses per capita out last week out of all EU countries. That increase in vaccination rates in the Netherlands, and a possible slowdown in other countries, has developed since the beginning of May. But for the first few months vaccines were available, the Netherlands ranked among the worst in the European Union.
"The Netherlands is still a [high risk] area for most countries. We're running behind, we're not even a golden mean," Josje Majoor from ANWB told the newspaper AD. "Germans are welcome in more countries than the Dutch because of the lower infection rate in their country. The Dutch frequently have to deal with tests, travel declaration forms and quarantine obligations. It's whole paperwork to go on holiday now."
The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs issues travel advice for each country after carrying out risk assessments. The color code assigned to each region determines where the Netherlands residents are allowed to travel without being subject to mandatory quarantine or testing upon their return. The Dutch government urges its citizens to always check entry regulations at their traveling destination. While traveling to some regions may be deemed safe by the Dutch government, these regions are free to impose their own restrictions onto Dutch tourists.
"We advise looking closely at the color code, but also behind the color code. A country may be yellow, but we ourselves may still be a high-risk country, even if the number of infections appears to be falling," said the chair of travel organization ANVR, Frank Oostdam. "There might additional requirements because you are a Dutch national. Take Switzerland, which is now yellow, you can go on holiday there, but it seems like Fort Knox to enter because you come from the Netherlands. There are many countries that impose stricter requirements on Dutch citizens.”
The entry restrictions imposed on Dutch tourists vary greatly across Europe. The Netherlands has reduced warnings for people traveling to Portugal, but that country requires virtually everyone entering from the Netherlands to provide a negative Covid-19 test result. In Switzerland, people arriving from the Netherlands are still subject to 10-ten mandatory quarantine. Many are hopeful that the European Digital Covid Certificate will simplify traveling across the Union again.
According to Oostdam, it was crucial for the Netherlands that the figures were reevaluated as soon as possible, and travel advice updated. He said he was hopeful that warning levels for all of Europe would be reduced by July 1, "including the Netherlands.'