Cabinet to open higher education, gyms, and allow shopping by appointment: Reports
This story was updated to note that fitness centers, hairdressers, and close contact professions may also be allowed to emerge from the lockdown.
The Cabinet plans to allow in-person lessons in higher education and secondary vocational education and for non-essential stores to open for shopping by appointment. Options to exercise will also be expanded. These relaxations to the coronavirus lockdown will take effect on Saturday, sources close to the Cabinet said to De Telegraaf and later to NOS, ANP, and RTL Nieuws.
The hospitality and cultural sectors will remain closed for the time being, all of the media outlets reported. Fitness centers, hairdressers, and other close contact professions will also be allowed to reopen, sources told the broadcasters and ANP, though De Telegraaf said it was still under consideration and not yet decided.
When retail shops do open their doors, they will again be subject to limitations based on a number of customers allowed per square meter of floor space.
The Ministers most involved in the coronavirus approach were meeting in The Hague on Thursday to discuss the most recent advice from the Outbreak Management Team. According to the newspaper's sources, the OMT advised only relaxing measures around education, sports, and retail.
The Ministers will make final decisions on Friday, and Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Health Minister Ernst Kuipers will announce these in a pres conference expected on Friday evening.
Earlier this week, Kuipers tempered expectations by saying that the number of Covid-19 infections is at record high, and there are concerns about what this will mean for hospitals.
Coronavirus infections are at an all-time high in the Netherlands, with nearly 210,000 infections diagnosed in the past seven days. Although infections have been rising sharply since just after Christmas, average daily hospitalizations due to Covid-19 continued on the steady decline, which started at the beginning of December. Hospitals admitted an average of 135 new Covid-19 patients each of the past seven days, compared to 360 per day six weeks ago.
The new Cabinet, which just took office earlier this week, found itself under intense pressure from municipal and provincial governments to either loosen the lockdown or provide evidence for why a hard lockdown must remain in place. Cities in Drenthe, Gelderland, Limburg, and elsewhere plan to allow non-essential stores, restaurants, and cafes to reopen their doors on Friday or Saturday as a form of protest against the lockdown.
Dozens of cities have written letters to Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Cabinet members, and the Association of Dutch Municipalities to express their concern for business owners who are on the verge of collapse after two years of financial setbacks due to lockdown measures. “We as mayors from the Gooi en Vecht region notice that flexibility is at an end. Faith and trust are gone. Many residents and entrepreneurs are having a hard time,” a group of local political leaders wrote in a statement.
A strict lockdown is “no longer justified,” said Andries Heidema, the King’s Commissioner in Overijssel. “It is unsurprising that support for the measures is ebbing.” The province, which borders Germany, has also lost out on revenue due to people choosing to visit German municipalities for shopping and restaurant visits, Heidema said.“Entrepreneurs will take matters into their own hands and will still open their businesses. That is not allowed, but it is quite conceivable.”