Dutch gov't dropping social distance for Covid access passes; No quarantines for vaccinated travellers
An overview of the coronavirus rules changes can be found in a separate article.
The Netherlands will no longer enforce rules meant to keep people 1.5 meters away from each other, said caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte at a press conference about the country's coronavirus policy on Tuesday. The country will instead begin much wider use of coronavirus access passes from September 25, where people wanting to gain entry to various venues will be required to demonstrate proof of either vaccination against Covid-19, recovery from an infection of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, or a negative test for the infection within 24 hours of use.
"Right at a time when many people were sad, we had to keep distance. That is why I am happy that we can announce that we can abolish the 1.5 meter distance as an obligation as of September 25," Rutte said. "The [Outbreak Management Team] thinks it is responsible, if we are extra careful in high-risk situations by working with a coronavirus pass, which is already common in neighboring countries."
With the expiration of the 1.5 meter rule, the hospitality businesses, cinemas, music venues, professional sporting events and cultural sites can return to 100 percent capacity provided they use coronavirus access passes. Indoor events where people do not stay in a fixed seat will be allowed at 75 percent capacity. Those events may not be held from midnight to 6 a.m., the same hours when hospitality businesses are required to be closed. "The OMT has advised us to be careful for a while, which is why the catering industry remains closed at night." Because of that, nightlife businesses and music venues will continue to have access to financial support.
"The risk still is not gone. We want to cautiously relax further," Rutte said. It emerged on Tuesday that nightclubs and discotheques would be allowed to open their doors again, but those doors will need to be closed every midnight. Dropping all restrictions could have consequences, he continued. "Then there is a chance that a large part of those 1.8 million [unvaccinated adults] end up in hospitals in a few weeks.”
The coronavirus passes will be generated in the form of QR codes in the CoronaCheck app. Those who do not have access to a smartphone can call 0800-1351 to arrange for a paper copy of a coronavirus pass. Businesses and organizations will be responsible for denying entry to anyone who cannot provide the required proof, and they can use the CoronaCheck Scanner app for that purpose. The Cabinet will provide additional funding to municipalities to make sure the system is being used, but Rutte was not clear about how much money would be provided. He also did not answer questions about how much a business could be fined for breaking the rules, but he did say cafes could be closed for violations.
The access passes are not meant to force vaccination, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said, but rather a "limitation" for unvaccinated people. "But that limitation is nothing compared to the major restrictions that have applied to the entire population for so long," he continued, noting that most Covid-19 hospital patients are unvaccinated. "Vaccination is the way to freedom. The higher the vaccination coverage, the fewer measures are needed."
No end date for the access pass system was stated, but Rutte hoped that more information would become available by November 1. Those who are not vaccinated against the disease, and who do not have proof of recovery from the infection, will still be able to get tested for free for the time being, Rutte said. Earlier, the Cabinet had argued that people should pay out of their own pockets for this if they decided not to get vaccinated.
"We have been living with the 1.5 meters for exactly one and a half years. We had to do that to protect each other. It was the symbol of the restrictions," said Health Minister Hugo de Jonge at the press event. "The fact that we can now do without it is a milestone."
No quarantine for vaccinated travellers
The Cabinet also announced that travellers who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 will not have to quarantine upon arrival in the Netherlands even if they have visited a country where people are at a very high risk of getting infected with the coronavirus. The change in policy will take effect from September 22.
Currently, everyone who arrives from such countries, which currently includes the United States and the United Kingdom, are supposed to enter quarantine for ten days, and can be released from quarantine with a negative test result on the fifth day. About 125 people have been fined hundreds of euros for violating mandatory quarantine rules thus far.
Rules relaxed for primary & secondary school, higher education, public transportation
Despite a rising number of primary and secondary school students becoming infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, entire classes will no longer be forced into quarantine when one student tests positive for the infection. "Only students with a positive test or complaints should stay at home," Rutte said.
Additionally, there will no longer be a maximum number of students allowed to attend lectures and classes in higher education and vocational schools starting on September 25. Those students, and secondary school students, will also not be required to wear face masks. They will still have access to coronavirus self-test kits provided by their school, which should be used twice per week.
Public transit passengers and people in many areas of Dutch airports will still be required to wear face masks from September 25. However, they will not have to wear masks at train stations or on station platforms.
"The advice to work from home will be slightly relaxed," Rutte said. "Work from home as much as possible. Only at the office if necessary. Also respect the choice of people who want to continue to adhere to the measures."
Although the Dutch government relaxed several aspects of the country's coronavirus policy on Tuesday, but stopped short of lifting all restrictions entirely. "September 25 is not the day when everything is back to the way it was before corona. There are still too many new infections and hospital admissions for that." Rutte said.
Data from the RIVM has shown between 2,000 and 3,000 coronavirus infections nearly every day since July 31. The Covid-19 hospital patient total of 635 was at its lowest point since July 28, it was still three times the total from when the Delta variant coronavirus wave began to impact the country. The average number of daily hospitalizations was still seven times the average before the Delta wave, though it has been falling consistently.