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Support for government’s coronavirus policy drops to 45%

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Support for the cabinet’s coronavirus policy is waning according to the most recent results of ongoing research among 51,000 people by health institute RIVM and the GGD health boards.

In November two out of three people supported the way the government had been tackling the crisis, but January’s questionnaire showed that this had fallen to 45%. Only one in five respondents thought the Netherlands was doing well compared to other countries, which is half of what it was in November.

The results are probably affected by the circumstances at that time, research leader Marijn de Bruin told the Volkskrant. The Netherlands was heavily criticised for not starting the vaccine programme until January while all other European countries had started theirs in December.

In addition, 40% of respondents are neutral about the government’s policy, she said. Some 55% of respondents also expressed doubt about whether or not the cabinet had made evenhanded and logical choices and criticised the way measures were communicated to the public.

According to health communication professor Bas van den Putte, the fact that the cabinet is now considering a curfew shows the failure of its communication policy. ‘The cabinet has not succeeded in intrinsically motivating people to keep to the rules, and now it needs to be enforced,’ he said.

Social distancing

However, two thirds of the respondents said they are keeping to measures such as not shaking hands and social distancing and over half do not frequent busy places. Double the number of people with symptoms went for tests compared to the summer figures and people with symptoms stayed home more often.

‘It looks as if people are becoming more careful,’ Bruins said. But Van den Putte said even if 80% of people kept to the rules, that still left 20% who don’t. ‘That’s three million people who can infect each other,’ he said.

‘And the rest don’t always abide by the rules. Just go to any supermarket and try to keep a distance of 1.5 metres.’ De Bruin said that coronamoeheid (being tired of corona measures) is not evident from the figures but that loneliness and depression have increased.

(DutchNews)

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Cabinet’s resignation will not affect coronavirus plan, says Rutte

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The resignation of the entire Dutch cabinet on Friday formed a dramatic conclusion to the tax office benefits scandal, but it will make little change to the day-to-day business of running the country.

After submitting his resignation to the king, Mark Rutte will continue as prime minister in a caretaker capacity with his team of ministers – with the exception of economic affairs minister Eric Wiebes, who quit the cabinet because of his personal involvement in the affair.

Rutte stressed at his press conference on Friday that the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic would not be hampered by the loss of its mandate. ‘There is still a majority in parliament for the corona plan,’ he said.

He also promised the process of compensating parents who suffered as a result of the tax office’s anti-fraud strategy would not be impeded – although the €30,000 that parents were promised in December will not arrive in their bank accounts before May at the earliest.

‘I am confident that parliament will do all it can to ensure that your compensation takes shape quickly and that all steps are taken to prevent a repeat,’ Rutte said. Caretaker governments – known as ‘demissionair‘ in Dutch – are not exceptional in the Netherlands.

Once a cabinet’s term has ended ministers stay in office until negotiations to form a new government have concluded – a process that can take several months.

The current cabinet was sworn in on October 17, 2017, following the election on March 15. This was the longest ever negotiation period, mainly because four parties were needed to form a government and the first round of talks collapsed when GroenLinks withdrew.

Once a cabinet has become a caretaker government, parliament decides which policy areas are essential and urgent, and which are ‘controversial’ and therefore off-limits.

The pandemic response will be seen as urgent, allowing the government to continue to devise and implement rules on curfews, vaccinations and social distancing. But even within the constraints of a caretaker administration, the governing parties still have considerable scope to pass legislation.

After the collapse of Rutte’s first cabinet in 2012, which was brought down when Geert Wilders refused to sign off a €16 billion emergency austerity package, the Netherlands still needed to make urgent cuts in its budget to meet the terms of the European Growth and Stability Pact.

Though Wilders’ PVV no longer supported the minority government of the right-wing Liberal (VVD) and Christian Democrat parties, finance minister Jan Kees de Jager managed to cobble together a five-party coalition to draw up a €12.4 billion package of measures within two days.

Because the ad hoc alliance – known as the Kunduzakkoord because the same parties had supported a military operation in Afghanistan – had a majority in parliament, the budget package was passed in April, even though the general election did not take place until September.

Rutte’s third term had just two months to run – the last three weeks of which would be taken up by the election campaign – and no major new pieces of legislation were in the pipeline.

However, the resignation of an entire government is an exceptional step that was last taken by Wim Kok’s government in 2002 when it accepted responsibility for the Dutch military forces’ role in the massacre at Srebrenica during the Yugoslav Wars.

(DutchNews)

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Mutated virus found in major Covid outbreak at Frisian nursing home

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – At least two people living in a nursing home in Friesland have been found to have the more infectious variant of coronavirus first identified in Britain, the Leeuwarder Courant newspaper reported on Thursday.

The nursing home, in Surhuisterveen, was hit by a large number of cases at the beginning of the year and on Wednesday a random selection of 59 residents were again tested for coronavirus.

Of them 21, tested positive. ‘We know two of them definitely have the ‘British’ variant,’ a local health board spokesman told broadcaster RTL. ‘We are now doing further research and don’t rule out more cases.

It is a major outbreak.’ In total, 45 residents in the Suyderhuys have now tested positive for coronavirus and two have died. More than 40 care home workers have also had a positive test result.

The nursing home has now cancelled visits and ramped up testing of its staff. Workers are also wearing additional protective clothing, the paper said. The discovery that the ‘British variant’ has reached the nursing home has been a ‘big shock’ to residents, their families and staff, Jan Maarten Neuijens, chairman of the Kwadrant Groep which runs the home, told the LC.

The new variant is ‘a likely explanation for the large number of infections in the Suyderhuys and a sad conclusion,’ he said. ‘We really regret this.’

Infection rate

Prime minister Mark Rutte said on Tuesday that the Dutch lockdown is being extended because the infection rate has not dropped enough and because of fears about the spread of the new strain, known as B-117.

The public health institute has reported 6,575 new cases in the 24 hours to Thursday morning, a rise of around 400 on Wednesday’s total, but below the weekly average of just under 7,000.

More people were discharged from hospital than admitted and the number of patients being treated on intensive care wards has dipped below 700, the figures show.

(DutchNews)

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Ministers look into curfew option and further limits on home visits

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The cabinet has asked its special coronavirus advisory team to look into the option of bringing in a curfew in an effort to further cut down on contacts between people and so reduce the spread of the virus, particularly the new and highly infectious variant first identified in Britain.

Prime minister Mark Rutte urged MPs during Wednesday’s debate on the government’s coronavirus strategy not to block a curfew, should it be on the cards.

As yet, no details of what form a curfew could take have been made public, but the government’s counter terrorism agency NCTV said in December that it could operate from 8pm to 4am and that it would be an offence to be on the streets during that eight-hour period without a valid reason.

Rutte said at Tuesday’s press conference that officials are looking into what additional measures could be taken if the number of positive coronavirus tests fails to reduce sufficiently.

Jaap van Dissel from the public health institute RIVM told MPs on Wednesday that one option would be to impose further limits on visitors, given that half the infections with a known source happen within a household and 36% derive from visits.

The cabinet currently recommends no more than two adult visitors in a 24-hour period. Utrecht epidemiologist Patricia Bruijning told broadcaster NOS that she would like to see a system similar to Belgium, where visits are restricted to the same small, social bubble of people.

The infection rate per 100,000 people in Belgium in the last week of 2020 was four times lower than that in the Netherlands, she said.

(DutchNews)

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Parties warned not to share fake opinion polls circulating online

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Political parties are being warned not to spread fake opinion polls on social media in the build-up to the general election in March. Kieskijker, an online watchdog set up to monitor disinformation during the 2021 campaign, said several smaller parties had shared polls published by A&M Research.

They included the recently formed Splinter and Code Oranje, as well as the Dutch Pirate Party and the pan-European party Volt. Kieskijker said A&M first appeared at the end of December and has no website, business address or registration at the Dutch Chamber of Commerce (KvK).

Its Twitter account has just over 100 followers. It claims to blend existing surveys with its own research from subscribers, but its polls so far have exaggerated support for populist parties such as Geert Wilders’ PVV and JA21, which was formed from the split within Forum voor Democratie last month.

‘It is wholly unclear who or what is behind the Twitter account and the so-called ‘polls’ of A&M Research,’ Kieskijker said. ‘The methods described by the account do not allow reliable polls to be created.

‘The chance that these social media users happen to constitute a good representation of the Dutch voting public is zero.’ Kieskijker urged voters and parties to restrict themselves to reliable polls from official sources such as I&O Research, Kantar, Ipsos/EenVandaag and the Peilingwijzer poll of polls compiled by Leiden University professor Tom Louwerse.

(DutchNews)

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At the current rate, it will be March before restrictions can be eased: OMT

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – If the number of coronavirus infections in the Netherlands continues to decline at the current rate, it will the beginning of March before restrictions can be lifted, according to the government’s Outbreak Management Team.

The team’s experts say in their latest briefing to the government that it will take weeks before the key level of no more than 40 hospital admissions and 10 IC referrals per day is reached.

The statement comes just a day after the government announced the lockdown would be extended to February 9, because the infection rate is still too high, and because of fears about the impact of the more infectious B-117 strain of the virus, first detected in Britain.

The number of hospital and IC admissions has stabilised in recent weeks and there are signs that the total is now going down. Nevertheless, at the current rate, the OMT says, it will be the end of March before there are no more than three IC admissions a day, which would show the outbreak is under control.

The RIVM reported a further 6,148 positive coronavirus tests on Wednesday, up some 600 on Tuesday’s total but still below the week average of just over 7,000. There are currently just over 2,500 people being treated in hospital, of whom 700 are in IC.

In total, 218 people were admitted to hospital in the 24 hours to Wednesday morning, and 46 patients were taken to an IC ward. OMT member Jaap van Dissel, who heads the public health institute RIVM, told MPs on Wednesday morning that the current percentage of positive tests is still too high.

‘It is currently 12% to 13% and should be half that,’ Van Dissel told MPs during a discussion on the decision to extend the lockdown by three more weeks. One option, he said, would be to impose further limits on visitors, given that half the infections with a known source happen within a household and 36% derive from visits.

‘The situation with visits is a weak point in the measures,’ he said. The cabinet currently recommends no more than two adult visitors in a 24-hour period.

Twente

Van Dissel said there are currently 275 infections per 100,000 people in the Netherlands but that Twente, in the south, is a black spot, with up to 450 infections per 100,000.

However, the infection rate has been decreasing across all age groups, apart from young adults aged 18 to 24, he said. He also referred to research from Imperial College London which suggests one in five children with coronavirus have no symptoms.

‘This reinforces the idea that children have a much milder version of the virus that adults,’ he said. ‘The change that they will infect other family members is also less likely.’

Ministers hope to reopen Dutch primary schools on January 25, if infection rates continue to decline and the B-117 strain does not start to spread in the Netherlands.

So far 100 cases of the mutant virus have been identified in the Netherlands, many of them related to a primary school in Lansingerland, where all 60,000 residents are now being tested.

(DutchNews)

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First signs of lockdown effect as weekly coronavirus cases decline by 12%

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Coronavirus cases fell by 12.5% in the first full week of the New Year in what the public health agency RIVM called the first clear sign that the month-long lockdown is taking effect.

In the week to Tuesday 49,398 positive tests were recorded, compared to 56,440 in the previous seven days. The positive test rate was 12.8%, still relatively high but the lowest proportion since the first half of December.

The government is expected to announce a three-week extension to the lockdown on Tuesday evening because infections have not come down sufficiently to allow schools, non-essential shops and facilities such as museums and gyms to reopen.

Although infections have fallen steadily in the last two weeks, the number of patients in hospital and intensive care remains higher than at any time since April last year.

In the last seven days 1,503 people were admitted to hospital with Covid-19, a decline of 18.2%, while intensive care admissions were 11.9% lower at 297.

The RIVM said the decline in positive tests was concentrated in people over the age of 30. In the 18-to-24 age group infections per 100,000 people increased by around 10%.

The reproductive number R, which indicates whether the virus is becoming more prevalent or declining, remains just below 1 at 0.95, as calculated on December 25.

Around the 25 safety council regions the highest concentration of cases was in Twente, where 417.8 in every 100,000 people tested positive last week, while Rotterdam-Rijnmond had the lowest rate at 194.3.

The declining trend was also reflected in the daily figures for Tuesday, with the number of new infections falling below 5,000 for the first time since December 2. A total of 4,986 cases were recorded, 21.3% fewer than a week ago, bringing the weekly average down to just over 7,000.

However, there is little respite so far for the hospitals, who are currently treating 2,640 patients with Covid-19, an increase of 12 since Monday, of whom 695 are in intensive care.

(DutchNews)

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Dutch extend lockdown, look into curfew to contain ‘British’ variant

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – As widely predicted, the Dutch government is extending the lockdown until February 9, and is also considering the introduction of a curfew.

‘Everyone will understand we have no other choice,’ prime minister Mark Rutte told a press conference on Tuesday evening. ‘The figures are not going down sufficiently and now we have to deal with the British variant of the virus.

What we see coming out of Britain and Ireland is heartbreaking and alarming.’ In addition to extending the lockdown, ministers are looking at what else can be done to further reduce the infection rate, Rutte said.

One option is to bring in a curfew, and the Outbreak Management Team – the cabinet’s main coronavirus advisory group – has been asked to report back on that specific option.

‘We do think it could be an effective measure to limit infections via the home,’ Rutte said. Schools and daycare centres will remain closed and secondary school pupils who can attend lessons will now have to keep 1.5 metres from each other, where possible, Rutte said.

The government is also looking into the option of opening primary schools and daycare centres on January 25, but that decision will not be taken until next week at the earliest, Rutte said.

British variant

There are now 100 cases of the British variant of the virus known in the Netherlands, health minister Hugo de Jonge told reporters. ‘We have to make sure that this figure stays as low as possible,’ he said.

To this end, several places where the infection rate is extremely high, including the Charlois district of Rotterdam, Dronten and Bunschoten, near Amersfoort, will also appeal to all residents to undergo a test, De Jonge said.

Lansingerland in Zuid-Holland said on Monday it plans to test around 60,000 people for coronavirus following an outbreak of the British strain of the disease at a primary school last month.

De Jonge urged everyone who has symptoms to have a test, as well as people who are contacted as part of the contact tracing programme. ‘There are 376 locations now where people can take a test,’ De Jonge said.

‘There is capacity to carry out 100,000 tests a day, and only 50% is being used.’

Vaccinations

De Jonge, who has been heavily criticised for the slow start to the Dutch vaccination programme, also said some 35,000 nursing staff have already been vaccinated, and 200,000 appointments have been made.

By the summer, everyone over the age of 60 should have been vaccinated, De Jonge said. By the autumn, the entire population should have had the jab.

Travel

Rutte also criticised the number of people going on foreign trips and said that people should stay in the Netherlands until April, unless they have a serious work or family reason to travel.

Describing holidaymakers as ‘very anti-social’, Rutte said: ‘every foreign trip is a risk for yourselves and everyone around you,’ Rutte said. Rutte also said there are no indications as yet that the general election, planned for March 17, would not go ahead.

Backing

Research published earlier on Tuesday by broadcaster NOS shows that almost four in five people consider the decision to extend the lockdown to be acceptable, and that 72% of people support the government’s strategy for dealing with the virus.

The survey also showed the willingness to be vaccinated has gone up again to 82%. In total, 63% say they will certainly be vaccinated, up from 43% two months ago. People have most confidence in Diederik Gommers, acute care chief and a member of the Outbreak Management Team.

Second on the list is hospital chief Ernst Kuipers and third the regional health boards. Both Gommers and Kuipers have criticised government policy and called for tougher measures.

(DutchNews)

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Lockdown set to be extended, but new coronavirus case total is going down

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch coronavirus lockdown is ‘almost certainly’ to be extended by three weeks, sources in The Hague have told broadcaster NOS.

Ministers met at prime minister Mark Rutte’s official residence on Sunday to discuss the latest situation with key advisors, including public health chief Jaap van Dissel. The government announced in mid-December that schools and non-essential shops would close until the third week in January.

However, because infection rates are still high, a number of experts have gone public in recent days calling for an extension of the lockdown. On Sunday, for example, Menno de Jong, a virologist and member of the government’s Outbreak Management Team, told Amsterdam broadcaster AT5 the lockdown should be extended until at least the end of the month.

‘If the slight drop [in new infections] does not continue and the English mutation gets the upper hand, then we are more likely to see stricter measures,’ he said. Rutte refused to be drawn on the issue at his regular press conference on Friday, but he and health minister Hugo de Jonge are due to hold a televised press conference on Tuesday.

‘The infection rates are still too high and that means people still have too many contacts,’ Rutte said at the Friday meeting. The sources told NOS that the financial support package will be adapted to cope with companies who are hard hit by the lockdown extension.

The plans will be finalised in the coming two days, NOS said. RTL said its sources suggest that the lockdown will be at least three weeks longer but that there will not be any new measures announced on Tuesday.

New cases

The RIVM received 6,657 reports of new positive tests in the 24 hours to Sunday morning, down 708 on Saturday’s total and below the weekly average. The number of hospital patients also continued to decline, although slightly more people are being treated in intensive care units.

Nevertheless, fewer people were admitted to hospital in total – 187 compared with 241 on Saturday. On Saturday, the public health institute RIVM said the South African variant of coronavirus had been identified in a patient in Brabant. It is not yet clear where the patient picked up the virus, but he or she were first tested on December 22.

(DutchNews)

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Coronavirus cases at lowest level for six weeks but hospital numbers still high

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Daily coronavirus cases dropped to their lowest level since the start of December on Monday. The public health agency RIVM reported 5,499 new cases in the 24 hours to 10am, more than 1,000 fewer than on Sunday and 16.2% lower than a week ago.

On average cases have fallen by 11.8% a day in the last week. The number of patients in hospital increased by 67 to 2,628, while 702 patients are in intensive care – a number which has hovered around the 700 mark since the turn of the year.

Another 50 deaths from Covid-19 were reported by the RIVM, compared to a weekly average of 106. The spread of the virus in nursing homes also appears to be slowing, with 852 facilities reporting at least one case in the last seven days compared to 839 a week ago.

In the three days to January 7 12.5% of coronavirus tests were positive, slightly fewer than in recent weeks. The World Health Organisation says countries should be aiming to reduce their positive test rate to below 5%.

(DutchNews)

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