Covid press conference possible today to announce new measures with immediate effect
Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Health Minister Hugo de Jonge are expected to hold a press conference at 7 p.m. on Saturday to announce a new set of coronavirus measures which could take effect this weekend, sources close to the Cabinet told broadcaster NOS and newswire ANP. The new measures may be implemented quickly to avoid people packing into shops or rushing off to a restaurant to have one last meal before a possible lockdown. The press conference would follow an emergency online Cabinet meeting where ministers will discuss a new set of restrictions.
The Outbreak Management Team (OMT) advised the Cabinet to implement a hard lockdown as quickly as possible in an effort to prevent a wave of infections caused by the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. This shutdown would affect nearly every sector in the country, including the hospitality industry, non-essential retail, hairdressers and salons, theaters, cinemas, gyms, secondary schools and higher education institutions. Primary schools were already ordered to close a day ago.
NOS reported that the caretaker Cabinet is expected to adopt the advice, with politicians and their staffers calling for “all hands on deck.” NOS noted it would be the first time the government adopts lockdown measures before a new coronavirus wave occurs, though the country has not yet emerged from the current wave of infections that it has faced for weeks.
"If necessary, we will take the appropriate measures,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said on Friday afternoon after meeting with OMT members.
Members of the Cabinet were expected to discuss the situation on Friday evening with Jaap van Dissel, the chair of the OMT and director at the RIVM. Cabinet ministers will meet Saturday morning with the mayors representing the security regions of the country, NOS reported. The ministers will then hold their own meeting in the early afternoon, with any announcements expected soon after.
The Omicron variant is believed to be far more contagious that the Delta variant, and potentially as pathogenic. Hospitals have already been struggling for weeks under the burden of a surge of infections over the last five weeks, forcing the cancellation of scheduled operations. The latest estimates suggest that a fourth of all new coronavirus infections in Amsterdam are caused by the Omicron variant, and that the number of Omicron infections has been doubling every two to three days.
"If there is enormous pressure on the hospitals, then measures must be taken,” said a spokesperson for NU91, a labor union representing nurses. "The OMT did not come up with the advice without reason. You can't simply ignore it.”
Should the Cabinet introduce new measures, the Tweede Kamer will return from recess to debate the issue after the weekend.