Cabinet to decide Monday on extended school closure; De Jonge warns against Omicron optimism
The caretaker Cabinet of the Netherlands said it wants schools to be able to open from January 10, after the winter holidays, but that a decision on the issue will be made on Monday. The decision could depend on new advice from the Outbreak Management Team (OMT).
Primary schools and after-school care were closed from December 17, one week before the winter break was set to start. Initially, after-school care was going to be allowed to reopen on December 27, but that changed with the hasty announcement of a hard lockdown as a precaution against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. At that press conference a week and a half ago, the Cabinet closed secondary schools and higher education, and extended the closure of after-school care.
Forecasts showed that the Omicron variant could trigger a huge new wave of coronavirus infections. Without the strict lockdown measures, the healthcare sector would be in danger of becoming overloaded.
There are "bright spots" in more recent data about the Omicron variant, but Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said he was wary of being too optimistic about the situation. "The virus has rarely surprised us in a positive way."
British research now shows that although the Omicron variant spreads much faster than the Delta variant, it may also be less pathogenic. "But be careful, we don't know enough to say that it will not be so bad," warned De Jonge.
Just before Christmas, the OMT wrote in a recommendation that more research data is needed to draw firm conclusions. The experts expect to conclude that phase of their work next week, and will produce new advice based on it.
According to De Jonge, education will play a central role in policy note. The Cabinet prefers to allow schools to reopen on schedule, he said. "But if the same OMT advice shows another perspective, the Cabinet will of course consider it," said the minister.