Sources: Netherlands could abolish most Covid rules at the beginning of March
The Cabinet hopes to be able to abolish most of the remaining corona measures by the beginning of March, including the use of face masks and the 1.5 meter social distancing rule, sources said. Those wanting to attend large festivals and events will be required to show a negative coronavirus test. The Cabinet first wants to hear from the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) whether such extensive relaxation of the restrictions in the Netherlands is a responsible course of action. Coronavirus infections in the country are currently at an all-time high, and Covid-19 hospitalizations have been rising for five weeks, but intensive care admissions have remained near a 100-day low.
From February 25, nightlife locations, festivals and events without fixed seating may already be open to people who test negative for the coronavirus infection. These changes to policy in the Netherlands are expected to be announced at a press conference on Tuesday. This week, Kuipers said the government's new focus is to keep society open, which was celebrated by the mayors on the Security Council.
If the experts think it's justified, further steps will probably be taken at the beginning of March. These relaxations may be announced at a press conference on March 8, but that is not yet certain.
Earlier in the day it was emerged that the Cabinet wants to extend the opening hours for the hospitality industry, theaters and cinemas next week. The exact time of closure is still being discussed. These businesses currently have to close at 10 p.m. Customers may no longer have to remain in assigned seats, and social distancing requirements in the hospitality and cultural sector could disappear, allowing them to increase attendance to maximum capacity.
Furthermore, according to sources close to the Cabinet, the advice to work from home will also disappear. The current advice has been in effect since November 26. It will also probably be announced next week that the restriction to receive a maximum of four people at home will be lifted.
The Cabinet is "cautiously optimistic" about hospital admissions. These have increased over the last five weeks, but at a much lower rate compared to the enormous numbers of positive infections linked to the Omicron virus. "The number of infections is very high, but fortunately the pressure on healthcare is not too bad," said Health Minister Ernst Kuipers on Wednesday.
Cabinet members did not want to publicly anticipate any relaxations. Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Wednesday that the chance is "really high" that loosening up restrictions will be possible. Cabinet ministers met for an extra meeting about the coronavirus policy on Wednesday morning, and the OMT will meet again to discuss the issue on Friday.
Rutte said the Cabinet could inform the Tweede Kamer about what it's considering even before the weekend, "a sort of 'what could be' package" of measures, he said. In addition, the Cabinet will have to make it clear that all these relaxations may not be implemented, particularly if the OMT sees a problem with the proposal. Anything taken off the table in the interim will be made clear on Tuesday.
Far-reaching elimination of restrictions will also be announced in other European countries in the coming days. For example, the Belgian minister handling coronavirus issues, Frank Vandenbroucke, expects that almost all coronavirus measures will be withdrawn in Belgium next Friday.
Reporting by ANP and NL Times.