SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The extra coronavirus restrictions introduced on November 4 are expected to be lifted as planned this week despite the fall in cases slowing down in recent days.
Prime minister Mark Rutte and health minister Hugo de Jonge will give an update on the pandemic response at a press conference on Tuesday evening, after the cabinet formally decides on the next steps.
The stricter rules, which included closing all museums, libraries, cinemas and zoos, and limiting public gatherings to two people, were designed to accelerate the decline in infections that began at the end of October and relieve the pressure on the healthcare sector.
Rutte said at his weekly press conference on Friday that they would not be extended. Cabinet ministers met for informal talks on Sunday at the Catshuis in The Hague, together with members of the outbreak management team, including Jaap van Dissel of the public health agency RIVM.
Daily infections fell by 35% in the seven days from November 4, but in the second half of last week the number of cases rose again to more than 6,000 before falling again over the weekend.
The number of patients in hospital has also declined by nearly 20% in the past two weeks, while intensive care occupancy has levelled off around the 600 mark and started to drop in the last few days.
Rutte and De Jonge are unlikely to give any clearer indication of whether restrictions can be eased further before Christmas. The ‘partial lockdown’ rules, including the closure of bars and restaurants, will continue at least until early December.
The government has also urged people not to travel abroad until the second half of January. Stricter local measures in areas with high rates of infection, such as Rotterdam, Twente and around Dordrecht, are also not anticipated.
There have been reports in recent days of a rift within the cabinet between ministers such as Rutte and De Jonge, who favour a stricter lockdown to drive down infections quickly, and those such as finance minister Wopke Hoekstra and economic affairs minister Eric Wiebes who want to limit the economic damage.
Rutte and De Jonge reportedly wanted to include a curfew and close schools in regions with the highest rate of infections, but were opposed by a majority of cabinet colleagues including Hoekstra, Wiebes and social affairs minister Wouter Koolmees, according to NRC.
Justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus and international development minister Sigrid Kaag publicly spoke out against introducing a national curfew.