Cabinet could relax Covid restrictions in sports, hospitality & culture
The Cabinet is considering how it can loosen up coronavirus lockdown restrictions further to allow spectators to attend professional or amateur sports competitions, Prime Minister Mark Rutte told the Tweede Kamer on Thursday. He also expressed optimism that the events sector could soon reopen, and reiterated that the Cabinet also intends to use any space to relax restrictions to allow the ailing hospitality and cultural sectors to reopen in some capacity.
The prime minister was unwilling to make a firm guarantee about lifting more restrictions. "We are hopeful, but we are still waiting for more information about how pathogenic Omicron is," he told the Members of Parliament, referring to the newer, more contagious variant of the virus. He made the comments during the Tweede Kamer's debate on the coronavirus measures on Thursday.
Rutte and Health Minister Ernst Kuipers announced the relaxation of some lockdown restrictions during a press conference last Friday. Rules were not loosened for bars, cafes, museums, cinemas and theaters, which all have to remain closed, except for restaurants which can sell takeaway orders. The affected businesses held protests over the past few days against the government's restrictions. Thirty mayors, including those from the 12 largest cities in the country, also joined to write an opinion piece published on Thursday calling on the Cabinet to seriously review its current policy.
The Cabinet's advisors on the issue, the Outbreak Management Team, will meet this Friday before presenting a new brief to the Cabinet. Rutte and Kuipers are scheduled to hold a press conference about any coronavirus policy changes on Tuesday.
"Given the more positive image that Jaap van Dissel of the RIVM presented at the briefing earlier today, there is hope," said Rutte. Van Dissel told the Tweede Kamer committee on public health that the RIVM's early assumptions about the Omicron variant were overly pessimistic with regard to the number of hospitalizations it could cause. He said that Omicron is causing 95 percent of new infections, and the risk of hospitalization is at least 40 percent lower than the Delta variant.
All changes to coronavirus restrictions depends on new projections from the Outbreak Management Team, Rutte said. Though infections are climbing at a rate so fast that the IT systems employed by the RIVM and the GGD can't handle the influx of data, daily hospitalizations steadily slid downward for weeks, up until Tuesday. Still, Rutte said everything was headed in a "favorable direction."
Joba van den Berg, a parliamentarian from coalition party CDA, argued in support of the hospitality businesses and cultural organizations which are still closed, and asked if they would be able to open at least by January 29. She said it was illogical to allow non-essential retail stores to open, but not museums or cinemas.
Members of the VVD, the prime minister's own party, also pressed the issue.