Rutte: Most coronavirus restrictions relaxed despite possibility of 100,000 new infections per day
NL Times also published a full list of all coronavirus restrictions effective in the Netherlands as of Wednesday.
The Dutch government will relax a large number of coronavirus restrictions in the Netherlands starting on Wednesday, said Prime Minister Mark Rutte, even though daily infections have shot up to about 60,000 per day, and new hospitalizations for Covid-19 showed a weekly increase for the first time in two months. Some restrictions were relaxed 10 days ago, and the new decision can push daily infections up to between 75,000 and 100,000 per day, confirmed Health Minister Ernst Kuipers during the 70-minute press conference on Tuesday evening.
The new rules will allow essentially all organizations to open their doors daily from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., letting cafes, restaurants, bars cinemas, museums, sports stadiums and movie theaters open up to the public for the first time in weeks, provided attendees have a valid coronavirus access pass. Additionally, closing time for businesses already allowed to open will be extended. The single closing time for all organizations was chosen at the request of the country’s mayors, who expressed concern that staggered and varied closing times would be difficult to enforce.
Rutte said the lighter set of restrictions taking effect on Wednesday will remain in place for six weeks. They will be reevaluated by the Cabinet on February 15. While he would like to offer relief to nightclubs and discotheques, and also loosen up home visits and work from home rules, he said it simply was not possible.
In making the decision, the Cabinet is going beyond the recommended relaxations of its top policy advisors, the Outbreak Management Team, which said an 8 p.m. closing time was the latest possible. The Cabinet is “consciously pushing the limits of what is possible,” Rutte said. This is because the recent protest actions by various industries are “cries for help” with underlying “major problems and tensions.”
He opened the press conference with a statement calling this point an “important moment” in the pandemic. “We are dealing with a sky-high number of infections and an increase in the number of hospital patients, and yet we are taking a new step forward. In doing so, we are taking another risk, but for good reason. Living even longer with restrictive measures damages our health and society,” Rutte stated.
He also expressed concern about the possibility of strengthening restrictions again in a few weeks, stressing the need to prevent another surge in Covid-19 hospital patients. By allowing every organization in the Netherlands that relies on public visitors to open up, or to expand their current opening hours, the number of contacts between people will rise higher, causing more infections and possibly more hospitalizations for Covid-19 treatment. ”Coronavirus is not the flu, as many people may now think.”
Some 366,000 people were diagnosed with the coronavirus infection last week, though the official figures from the RIVM were missing 60,000 additional records due to IT shortcomings. Including the missing data, infections over the last seven days were 75 percent higher than the pervious week. Figures from the LCPS showed that hospitalizations during that time rose by 18 percent to 919, with reports of increasing admissions of people under the age of 30.
He stated that everyone in the Netherlands has a responsibility to adhere to rules about face mask use, Covid-19 access pass use where required, social distancing, ventilation, and to also practice good hygiene. It is the only way to allow these businesses to open, Rutte stated. "I appeal to everyone to ensure that the Netherlands opens up, and can remain open,” he said. “I often hear from people who come back from France or Austria, ‘People stick to the rules so well.’ Let's do that here, too."
Kuipers agreed that it is “more important than ever before” to adhere to those rules. Even the most basic rules “still work best for not getting infected and to keep us from infecting others," Kuipers added.
Opening up in this way can lead to between 75,000 and 100,000 positive coronavirus tests per day, or more. He said this can also lead to more staff shortages, causing organizations to close their doors at least temporarily. The high number of infections in the past few weeks already means that “almost half a million people are continuously at home” while following the current quarantine guidelines.
"We are seeing in countries around us which remained open, such as in Belgium and France, that the number of infections is 1.5 to 2.5 times as high as here. If you look at the number of hospital admissions, it is up to five times higher than in the Netherlands,” he said.
In the Netherlands, the pressure on the health care sector will certainly increase again, Kuipers said. This will be felt not only by hospital workers, but also by general practitioners and home care workers. “There are bright spots. People with [the Omicron variant] spend shorter periods of time in hospitals. Fewer people need care, thanks to vaccinations,” he said.
The health minister also stressed the need for people who were previously vaccinated against Covid-19 to also get a booster shot. Those who have had one make up a very small percentage of all those hospitalized with the coronavirus disease, and an even smaller percentage of intensive care patients. So far, over half of adults in the Netherlands have gotten a booster shot.
The extra jab is only available to people over 18 years of age.
For those debating whether to get a booster shot, or even a First series of vaccination, Kuipers said, “The choice to get vaccinated is an individual one, but that can have consequences. That is why we are emphasizing that we are all in this together.”