Dutch to focus on keeping society open with future coronavirus policy; Outbreak team could disband
From now on, the Cabinet wants the phrase, "Keeping society open," to be the new starting point in its coronavirus policy, said Health Minister Ernst Kuipers in a letter to the Tweede Kamer on Tuesday. The letter explains what the goals and strategy will be in the coming months. It should lead to an "open, resilient and shock-resistant society,” in which we "live with the virus.”
The coronavirus policy will soon be based on two main goals, "social and economic continuity and also the accessibility of the entire healthcare chain for everyone.” These two goals are equivalent, according to the minister. As a result, the focus is shifting more from "the exclusion of risks to more control over them, and to a way of life that is as normal as possible.”
Until now, the Cabinet has had four main goals. Those included keeping the burden on the healthcare sector manageable, protecting people in vulnerable health, keeping track of the coronavirus, and limiting the economic and social damage.
Press conference on Tuesday could end more restrictions
Monday night, sources close to the Cabinet told Nieuwsuur that there was a good chance more coronavirus restrictions could soon be lifted. This could present a path for nightclubs to open up, and for stadiums to allow entry to more people. Prime Minister Mark Rutte also said on Tuesday that he was optimistic that there could be space to relax more restrictions, but that final decisions will not be made until early next week.
“An open, vital society requires difficult choices and a different weighing of interests," says the minister. "Even in this weighing of interests, measures should at all times be proportional, and fundamental rights should be restricted as little as possible. In this way, education, as an important sector for the development of our children, can be given priority in decision-making and remain excluded for as long as possible if contact-limiting measures are unexpectedly necessary again."
Kuipers will host a press conference on Tuesday evening to announce any changes to the coronavirus policy. Rutte will not be joining him, marking the first major press conference about the Dutch coronavirus policy without the prime minister’s presence since the start of the pandemic.
Outbreak Management Team could soon end its mission
Physician and microbiologist Marc Bonten, a member of the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) advising the Cabinet on its approach to the pandemic, thinks that the organizations time will soon come to an end. He said on BNR radio, "I don't think it will be around much longer."
He did not rule out the possibility of new variants emerging later which are capable of causing serious illness by evading the Covid-19 vaccines, or which can cause a great many more infections. In the event of such "surprises" the OMT can be reunited, he said.
Bonten is also a professor with the University Medical Center Utrecht. He said that for now, he expects more calm on the coronavirus front after reaching an apparent peak in infections. He believes the RIVM, the Center for Infectious Disease Control, and the National Coordination for Infectious Disease Control are capable of handling the situation and advising the Cabinet on the appropriate course of action. In that case, the OMT is "no longer necessary in its [current] composition.”The OMT consists of permanent members and a few additional specialists.
Bonten said he is not the only one within the OMT who sees the end approaching, although it is not talked about as such. He emphasized that it is still too early to say precisely when the situation will be completely calm, just that there is a good chance it will soon happen. He was also upbeat about having more free time and availability should the OMT disband.
Situation is better now, but caution is still needed
His colleague, OMT member Menno de Jong, also said that the country is in a more favorable position than last December, before the Omicron wave of the coronavirus really began in full. He noted the use of booster vaccinations, and the lower-than-expected number of people admitted to hospitals with Covid-19. The call to relax restrictions is therefore justified, according to De Jong, but according to De Jong, people must also be careful. "We are now in a bit of an erratic phase," he said to the broadcaster.
The most likely scenario is that the virus will become less and less pathogenic as it evolves, De Jong stated. The Omicron variant can be a kind of intermediate step towards more harmless virus. "In the meantime, we should be a bit on alert.’
The OMT will meet again this Friday to discuss the state of the pandemic and whether or not to ease restrictions further. His first thoughts turn to more visitors for the cultural sector, and the extension of opening hours. "The whole menu is open."
De Jong said he is still in favor of coronavirus access passes, and also sees a 1G policy where everyone is tested before entry, could be a solution to allow nightclubs to reopen.
Reporting by ANP and NL Times.