Netherlands announces plan to end most Covid restrictions by Feb. 25
NL Times has also produced an article detailing all changes to coronavirus restrictions taking place between February 16 - 25.
Dutch Health Minister Ernst Kuipers confirmed on Tuesday that the Netherlands will indeed release nearly all coronavirus restrictions in three different steps over the coming ten days. The plan begins with changes to work-from-home and household guest advice, and will culminate with the end of the social distancing, face masks, and coronavirus access passes in most situations.
“More people than ever have been infected. After the latest relaxation of measures, the number of infections continued to rise,” he said about the latest wave of infections during a press conference. The staggering amount of infections has not resulted in a similarly sharp rise in hospitalizations due to severe symptoms of Covid-19, he continued. “What we had hoped, turned out to be correct. We are more resistant to the virus thanks to vaccines, and previous infections.”
He announced the immediate changes to the Cabinet’s policy regarding household guests. Starting Tuesday, people can again receive as many guests at home as they like, and are no longer restricted to four people per day. Additionally, work from home advice, as expected. People are still being told to avoid their workplaces as much as possible, but if it’s necessary workers can return to the office for up to half the time.
The Cabinet will re-evaluate the situation on March 15. They will then decide if any restrictions need to be introduced again, or if more restrictions can be eliminated. Some have expressed fears that the Cabinet is making the same mistakes made even just a few months ago. “We can be optimistic, but we also have to remain realistic. Coronavirus is not gone,” Kuipers said.
At the end of September, it was announced that the catering sector would be able to reopen and a 1.5-meter distance rule would no longer apply. The 3G system was introduced; a QR code (generated from either a coronavirus recovery certificate, proof of vaccination, or proof of a negative test result) was required to enter hospitality businesses, events, and cultural venues like theaters and cinemas. Nightlife businesses joined the rest of the catering sector in having to shut at midnight. The Cabinet promised financial support for nightclubs and night hospitality businesses.
Covid infection numbers rose throughout October, and at the beginning of November it was announced that 1,312 people were being treated in hospital with the disease, more than double the number two weeks prior. As cases skyrocketed, restrictions tightened, and new, stricter rules were introduced for November 13 onwards, prompting the evening lockdown. The Omicron variant brought yet another blow. The Netherlands went into a hard lockdown on December 19, after thousands of Covid-19 hospitalizations were predicted. In reality, the new variant caused milder symptoms and many called for the restrictions to be dropped as hospital numbers remained low.
Coronavirus restrictions which will change on February 18
For the time being, people are still being told to remain home and get tested if they develop symptoms of Covid-19. People should also continue to follow the basic recommendations, like washing hands frequently, sneezing or coughing into an elbow, and maintaining proper ventilation in indoor spaces. Those rules are not expected to change in the coming weeks. Access passes will also still be needed to travel, unless the destination country’s rules change.
However, from Friday, February 18, the hospitality and cultural sectors, including football stadiums, will be allowed to open their doors until 1 a.m., extending the closing times by three hours. Coronavirus access passes will still be required, but maximum capacity will be expanded to 100 percent, putting an end to social distancing at those locations.
Face masks and assigned seating will no longer be required in those locations where fewer than 500 people are in attendance. However, both will be required at locations with more than 500 visitors, including football stadiums.
From Friday on, those who test positive for the coronavirus will have to remain home for five days, cutting the isolation time by two days. They can then leave their homes once they have been asymptomatic for at least 24 hours.
Coronavirus restrictions which will change on February 25
The nightlife sector has had a particularly tough time with the restrictions over the last two years, and recently made repeated calls to lift mandatory closing times. The Cabinet refused to make any formal announcements before Tuesday’s press conference, leading clubs to reopen in protest last weekend at the risk of incurring heavy fines.
Those clubs will finally get their wish. Starting on February 25, there will no longer be a nationally-mandated closing time for hospitality businesses and cultural organizations. Social distancing will no longer be required anywhere, and face masks will only be required on public transportation and on airplanes.
The Cabinet also agreed to put an end to the current coronavirus access passes in most scenarios. However, a 1G system where everyone must get tested to gain entrance will be in place for large indoor events with more than 500 people. The testing obligation is regardless of a person’s vaccination or recovery status. “With the large number of infections that we now have, 1G reduces the chance of becoming infected. Everyone's rightful wish is to allow society, as much as possible, to continue as quickly as possible. We are now coming from a very high level of infections. If we implement the relaxations as we are doing now, a contamination risk will remain,” he said.
These relaxations to the Dutch coronavirus policy will happen regardless if there is an increase in infections during the ten days leading up to the third step, Kuipers said. “Hopefully the number of infections will have decreased further, then we will have more room to handle it. If we look at the current calculations, we are assuming that will be the case."
Kuipers praised residents of the Netherlands for getting tested frequently during the Omicron wave. “The Dutch are taking their responsibility. We still have a lot to do. That is why I am entering this new phase with great confidence."
The research shows that the Netherlands has a “passed the peak” number of infections during the Omicron wave. “The chance that you will encounter someone who carries the virus is still high.” At the same time, he expressed optimism, saying that the Omicron variant is less pathogenic than previous variants, but caution is still needed.
“You always have to take into account that a new variant may arrive, but I hope we will no longer need to hold these press conferences. However, we cannot say for sure,” he said. “We are taking a risk, but I am not afraid that we will have to step on the brakes any time soon.”