SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – It is still too early to say if the current coronavirus rules can be relaxed during the Christmas and New Year period, prime minister Mark Rutte told a press conference on Tuesday evening.
Although the infection rate is dropping, the current indications are that it will be mid-January before the number of positive tests is below 1,200 per day and intensive care admissions below three per day – which are crucial to relax the rules, Rutte and health minister Hugo de Jonge said.
‘If you look outside the Netherlands, in Germany, Sweden and Luxembourg they are imposing lockdowns,’ Rutte said. The number of positive tests reported to the public health institute RIVM has fallen 15% over the past two weeks, but this is still not enough, the ministers said.
Nevertheless, from midnight Wednesday, the extra measures imposed two weeks ago, such as the closure of museums, cinemas and swimming pools will be lifted, Rutte said. ‘We will return to the measures of October 13,’ Rutte said.
Bars and restaurants will remain closed and people should continue to avoid foreign travel and leaving home to work unless there is no option.
From December 1, when the new coronavirus law is set to come into effect, face masks will be compulsory in all indoor spaces, as announced earlier, Rutte said.
In addition, everyone who is contacted by the track and trace programme or who has been alerted by the app that they have been in close contact with someone with coronavirus will be able to have a test from December 1.
Contacts should stay home until day 5, at which point they can report for testing, De Jonge said.
Sinterklaas, on December 5, will have to be celebrated in small groups, the prime minister said, adding that by December 8, more will be known about the end of year celebrations.
‘We are continuing to look at what can be done in a responsible way…What gives us long term perspective is mass vaccination, good medicine and more, quicker tests,’ Rutte said. The Netherlands has signed contracts with six different manufacturers for vaccines. ‘We are betting on lots of different horses at the same time,’ De Jonge said.
‘The first vaccinations will hopefully be carried out in the first months of 2021… although there are still many things we do not know.’ Asked about a survey which showed only 60% of people will accept a vaccination, De Jonge said he understood that people are concerned that vaccines are being approved so quickly, when normally the process takes 10 to 15 years.
De Jonge said everything in the approval process is now taking place at the same time. ‘We are not making any concessions on health and efficacy,’ he said. ‘Vaccination will be voluntary, but we will continue to tell you that it is the most important thing you can do.’