Rutte: Netherlands to enter hard lockdown on Sunday morning; Vacations still permitted
NL Times has compiled a full list of all coronavirus restrictions to take effect on December 19, and another about the plan to provide a Covid-19 vaccine booster shot to all adults by the end of January.
The Netherlands will expand the current evening lockdown into a complete hard lockdown starting at 5 a.m. on Sunday. Speaking during a press conference on Saturday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the lockdown is out of concern for the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Nearly every store, cafe, service provider, and cultural venue will be closed during the lockdown, which will continue until January 14. There will not include a curfew for the time being.
“It is terrible that this is necessary. We were blown out of our seats when we first heard about the major concerns the OMT has,” Rutte said, and that is why this press conference was arranged just four days after the last. “Yesterday they said that it seems very worrying. If [we do nothing and] it later turns out that our concerns were justified, you are already too late. It is terrible for everyone, for the whole country, that we have been in mired in this for almost two years. We are not the only ones, but that is of course no consolation."
He also stated, “Omicron is spreading even faster than we feared, so we must intervene now.”
The first known case of the Omicron variant in the Netherlands was discovered in a sample taken on November 19. It is expected to be the dominant variant in the country by New Year’s Day, said Jaap van Dissel, the director of the RIVM. The Delta variant which has been most common since July.
“The OMT is concerned about the Omicron variant, which still only accounts for a small part of the infections, but that share will increase very quickly,” Van Dissel said. “The increase is about doubling every two to three days. In Amsterdam the percentage is already around 25 percent, and elsewhere in Europe we see we the same.”
Van Dissel said there was a great deal that was still unknown about the situation. "We do not yet know how sick it will make you. It may take some time before we have data on this,” he said. “If more young people than older people contract this variant, the infections are high, but hospital admissions are low."
If the situation improves, the Netherlands could emerge from the lockdown before January 14. “If the figures are not too bad, we will come back earlier,” Rutte said.
Health Minister Hugo de Jonge also addressed criticism about the degree in which the hospital system’s capacity was increased to account for the continuation of the pandemic. “People may think that a greater hospital capacity means that fewer measures are needed, but that is not the case. Rapid exponential growth still puts pressure on healthcare, although that may happen a few days or a week later."
Booster campaign moving faster, but is it effective?
De Jonge also said the lockdown will essentially “buy time” so the government can get booster Covid-19 vaccine doses into as many arms as possible. “Over 1.5 million booster shots have been given. We still have 9.5 million to go. Next week we will administer a million shots, after that we will go up to 1.5 million shots per week.”
“With a booster you ‘boost’ the immune system again,” Van Dissel stated. “The immune system does not only consist of antibodies; immunity with vaccines gives a good response to Omicron. The question is what happens in practice. We are learning from that.”
“This new variant requires a new vaccine. That's what the manufacturers are doing. If the booster's effectiveness decreases rapidly, a new vaccine is part of the big picture,” De Jonge added. “I would like to say to GPs: go after the 11 percent who have not yet been vaccinated.”
Foreign travel not banned, but restrictions can change
The hard lockdown does not include a ban on non-essential travel. However, rules about coronavirus testing before travel may get stricter. “People are allowed to go on holiday, but stick to the applicable rules in the country where you are going,” De Jonge stated.
Stricter rules for those traveling to the Netherlands from a very high-risk country outside the EU or Schengen Area will begin on Wednesday. It involves those countries where a coronavirus variant of concern exists. Everyone traveling from those countries who has been vaccinated will have to take a PCR test 48 hours in advance, and a rapid test within 24 hours of travel. De Jonge also wants to require vaccinated travelers to quarantine when arriving from certain countries, just like unvaccinated travelers.
“The double-test obligation now only applies to very high-risk countries, we want this to apply to all countries from outside Europe. The Netherlands will bring that into effect from next Wednesday,” De Jonge said. The Dutch restriction will begin even though the entire European Union has not yet adopted the rule.
Schengen countries include most of the European Union and Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. The countries in the EU which are not part of Schengen are Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, and Romania.
Coronavirus restrictions in a nutshell
Nearly all publicly accessible buildings in the Netherlands will be closed starting at 5 a.m. on Sunday. There are a handful of exceptions, including for supermarkets, pharmacies, and other essential shops. They may remain open until 8 p.m. daily, as is currently the case. Restaurants and non-essential retailers may remain open for orders placed in advance and picked up on-site. Shops may also accept returns.
"The museums, theatres, cinemas and concert halls are closed, as are the catering and events sectors,” Rutte said. “All non-medical contact professions will close, such as hairdressers. All indoor sports locations will close and competitions will be stopped.”
Secondary schools and higher education will also close. Primary schools and after-school care already had to close from Monday, though after-school care may no longer reopen on December 27. Daycare centers for children through four years of age may remain open. “We are asking schools to prepare for distance education after the Christmas holidays. There will be clarity about this on January 3," Rutte stated. As in previous lockdowns, emergency care at schools and child care centers may continue for children whose parents work in a crucial profession, and for families in a more vulnerable position.
People younger than 18 may continue to train outdoors with their teams, and take part in outdoor competitions within their clubs. People 18 and up may only take part in outdoor sports activities with one other person at a distance of 1.5 meters. “Everyone is free to go out for a walk, cycle or run around, because sports are important,” Rutte said. Professional sports may continue without an audience.
Group sizes outdoors are capped at two people from different households, and households may accept up to two guests per day. Those rules are only counted towards people from the age of 13. From December 24 - 26 the group size indoors and outdoors expands to a maximum of four. This is also the case during New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
“Funerals and weddings are still possible under certain conditions,” Rutte added.