“Huge divisions” among Cabinet members in emergency Covid talks; King deeply concerned
Members of the caretaker Cabinet reconvened at Catshuis, the prime minister’s official residence, to continue talks about how best to tackle the coronavirus. The meeting was interrupted earlier in the day reportedly because the ministers were unable to agree on the best course of action. King Willem-Alexander expressed concern for the burgeoning number of coronavirus infections in the Netherlands.
The Cabinet is expected to make its final decision on Friday. Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Health Minister Hugo de Jonge will announce new policy changes during a press conference at 7 p.m. that night.
According to sources close to the Cabinet, the discussion at the Catshuis were difficult earlier in the day. The record-setting high number of infections this week made it hard to tell in what context people are acquiring the coronavirus infection. This also makes it more difficult to justify new measures.
Cabinet deeply split about what happens next
One person involved in the talks spoke of “huge divisions.” There are serious concerns about public support for new restrictions, and how much may be asked of people who opted to get vaccinated against Covid-19. Proportionally, they account for a relatively small number of hospital admissions.
Another looming issue are the short-term measures the government can announce. For example, it is not immediately possible to oblige people to keep 1.5 meters distance in different scenarios because it requires changes to the law. The same applies to mandating the coronavirus admission ticket system in more locations than is currently the case.
This leaves measures such as closing hospitality businesses earlier, and adapting or closing other sectors. According to sources, the education system is not expected to be affected for the time being.
Consultations broke off in the afternoon. It then became clear that the number of infections reached a new record. More than 16,000 people tested positive for the coronavirus between Wednesday and Thursday morning.
“It is very worrying,” and “we have to stay strong,” said the king
King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima were nearing the end of their State visit to Norway when the news broke. He said he is “greatly concerned” about the increasing number of coronavirus infections in the Netherlands while at the royal palace in Trondheim.
"Today we reached the highest number since the start of the crisis. But we also see the number rising elsewhere, including in the countries around ours. It is very worrying. It is a shame that the crisis is not over, and I especially sympathize with the employees in healthcare who are once again [facing this problem]. They deserve high praise," the king said.
He said he witnessed that the solidarity from the first phase of the crisis has disappeared and has given way to resignation. "We have to stay strong together for a while," said Willem-Alexander. He did not want to anticipate the measures announced on Friday, but was concerned about the discord in society and the divisions that are being magnified.
"We must have mutual understanding. We must fight it together. We can only do it together," said Queen Máxima
Reporting by ANP