Rutte: Gradual end to social distancing in society; Most restrictions “hopefully” gone by Nov. 1
The Netherlands will begin to eliminate more coronavirus restrictions by the end of August, despite advice from the Outbreak Management Team to put this off until September 20. This process will begin with the elimination of mandatory social distancing in some higher education institutions beginning on August 30, said Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Health Minister Hugo de Jonge during a press conference on Friday evening.
This will then lead to a step-by-step process where the requirement to maintain 1.5 meters distance will expire at different points in society, with a hopeful view that nearly all restrictions will be released by November 1. This was not definite, and more of a target. "We still have to take uncertainties into account. But at a certain point we will go back to normal, because we will succeed," Rutte said.
"Wherever resurgence occurs, we want to be able to intervene so that society as a whole is not affected. We long for the moment when, for example, we can really let go of everything on November 1, but that is not certain. We must remain alert and continue to work on our protection. We are blessed that so many people have already been vaccinated, but many people have not yet made that choice,” De Jonge said.
“More than a million young people have been receiving online education for over a year, and the consequences are serious. We are seeing mental and spiritual problems much more often, due to less guidance and social contact. We are therefore giving priority to education, and will release the 1.5 meters rule from Monday 30 August," Rutte said.
Because the end of August is weeks before the OMT advised, several restrictions will remain in higher education. This includes a maximum of 75 people present during lectures and classes, and a requirement that people continue to wear face masks when moving through buildings.
Higher education students, faculty and staff will be advised to make frequent use of coronavirus self-test kits.
The Cabinet will then decide on September 17 if the social distancing rules and advisory statements can be cancelled across the entire Dutch society by September 20. That includes secondary schools, which will have to continue with distancing and face mask use for the time being.
“We all remember how the virus overtook us at the beginning of the summer, with that sudden peak, after we implemented a large number of relaxations as of June 26. That was a considerable learning experience," Rutte said. For that reason, the continued relaxation or elimination of rules will only happen if the projected level of coronavirus infections and Covid-19 hospitalizations allows the Cabinet to make a definitive decision.
At least through the end of September 19, restaurants, bars and cafes must continue to close there businesses between midnight and 6 a.m. every day. Guests must still be assigned a fixed seat at the catering businesses.
“I realize that this is again a hard message and that more was hoped for. The work in these sectors can continue, but with one hand tied behind their back for the time being,” Rutte said.
Starting on September 20, it is expected that businesses wanting to host more than 75 people for events, such as theaters, cinemas, and some catering businesses, will be allowed to do so with an admissions system based on a person’s infection or vaccination status. This is commonly the result of a QR code generated by the CoronaCheck app on a user’s mobile phone. The QR code is assigned when someone is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, has recently recovered from the disease, or has had a recent negative test for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
Nightclubs will also stay closed at least through October 31, as the government will be evaluating the gradual impact of releasing social distancing measures during the coming ten weeks. The businesses will continue to receive financial support from the government.
From November 1, the Cabinet is hopeful that it would no longer be necessary to show a QR code from the CoronaCheck app to gain entry into a location. Combined with the reopening of nightclubs and the elimination of social distancing restrictions, it would effectively put an end to nearly all coronavirus restrictions in the Netherlands.
For now, people must continue to remain home when showing cold or flu symptoms. They must wash their hands, and maintain sufficient ventilation, Rutte said. It is “a social consideration”, because the continued reduction of coronavirus infections will make it possible to provide more relief to others.