Optimism for looser Covid restrictions in hospitality & culture, but work from home to remain
The average number of daily coronavirus infections is continuing to rise, but Covid-19 hospitalizations are remaining near a three-month low. Because of that there were glimmers of hope during the Outbreak Management Team meeting on Friday that some remaining lockdown measures could be relaxed. Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his fourth Cabinet want to loosen up restrictions for the hospitality, cultural, and events sector, and allow spectators to attend sporting events, as soon as it is safe to make more of the measures in the Netherlands more mild. No decisions have been made as of Friday evening, and if any restrictions are loosened up it may not mean that each of those sectors will open up simultaneously.
"There was not a celebratory mood, but there are signs of a light at the end of this variant's tunnel," a source involved in the OMT meeting told the AD. Restrictions to the maximum number of visitors and the use of face masks will likely remain, as will other limitations. "It is not justifiable to open everything at once. That would lead to too many infections."
Over 57,500 people tested positive for the coronavirus infection between Thursday and Friday morning, the most accurate indicator of the current situation after four days of data errors caused by overwhelmed IT systems, the RIVM said. "The infection numbers are high, but many people over sixty have received a booster shot, which is beneficial," said Prime Minister Mark Rutte after the Council of Ministers meeting. "So on balance we have a somewhat more positive feeling."
Health minister Ernst Kuipers also said that the evidence indicates about 1 out of every 75 residents of the Netherlands is infected with the coronavirus. He acknowledged that this is causing issues in many aspects of society. In fact, KLM is preemptively cancelling flights because of expected staff shortages, and other organizations, like the Rotterdam public transportation system, is also expecting short-term problems due to absenteeism.
Rutte reiterated that bars, restaurants, museums, theaters, events, and sports organizations are first in line when any restrictions are lifted. The prime minister repeatedly told reporters he was not offering any guarantees, saying in no uncertain terms that the final decision about any changes to coronavirus policy would happen next week. "We really hope that something can be done for those sectors that previously failed. We want to open up more quickly, as soon as possible, but the options and the extent we can do something will be determined when we have all the data," he said.
"We would love to take small steps in all sectors," Rutte added, but it is contingent on more information about infection levels and hospitalizations. He has also said he wants more information about what the increase in Omicron variant infections will mean for hospital figures going forward. The LCPS has already predicted that Covid-19 hospitalizations will begin to rise in the fourth week of the year.
One reporter asked Rutte if the Netherlands could end its advice to work from home as much as possible, similar to England, where people are being told to return to the office starting next week. Rutte shot down that idea almost immediately. The Cabinet is not even considering an end to its work from home advice.
The prime minister said that infections are already very high, and will rise even higher if the prioritized sectors see restrictions relaxed. To also eliminate work from home would cause a further increase to the amount of personal contact moments people have with each other, leading to far too many infections at this stage of the Omicron variant wave.
Rutte and Kuipers are scheduled to hold a press conference on Tuesday evening, where they will announce any changes to the coronavirus policy.