A week earlier than they had hoped, Prime Minister Rutte and Health Minister De Jonge addressed the country on Friday evening. And to their regret, not with the message that the previous plan has worked well, but with the announcement that it has so far proved completely insufficient to maintain peace in the hospitals. “We should see the effect of the measures of 12 November at some point in the coming days,” Prime Minister Rutte still hopes. ‘But the numbers are high, higher, highest. And our collective behavior has changed only slightly.’
Both he and De Jonge took the time for some self-reflection for the first time in twenty months, now that an emergency is in force in the Netherlands earlier than in almost all other Western European countries. The virus is developing differently than expected, as are the vaccines, the prime minister emphasized. “But I’m not saying this to absolve ourselves from criticism. We are not deaf to it. There is no way to do this flawlessly. So we don’t want to run away from that either. We try again and again to convince people of the importance of following the basic rules. Apparently we are less and less successful at this.’ When asked whether he thinks an apology is in order now that the Netherlands is once again entering a lockdown, he said: ‘Actually, yes.’
Too much certainty
De Jonge commented on the mounting criticism that he tends to always assume the most optimistic scenario, while that has usually proved unwise in this crisis: ‘That we would now be so gripped by the virus, was hardly imaginable. The models may offer less certainty than we thought. We have to take that into account. The virus doesn’t really care about my sometimes too much certainty. I am well aware of that.’
Two weeks ago, the ministers still assumed that with a ‘hard blow’ they could reduce the number of infections enough to be able to relax again from the beginning of December. There is nothing left of that idea. The new measures are intended to reduce the number of contact moments by at least 20 percent, but they did not dare to say whether that will work. De Jonge again emphasized the unvaccinated part of the population. ’70 percent of people in intensive care are not vaccinated. Choices have consequences. For yourself and for others.’
And also for the models, he said. ‘How quickly do all those unprotected people get sick? And how many of them end up in a hospital? This cannot be predicted by the models. It is therefore impossible to say how long we will need these types of measures.’
What is certain is that the action is now being taken harder. The new measures affect almost everyone. For the sectors that are mainly active in the evenings, there is de facto an almost complete lockdown. For many cafes, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and gyms, staying open probably doesn’t make much sense anymore. There will be new financial support packages to drag entrepreneurs through these weeks.
For the shops and service providers – such as hairdressers – the regime is more gentle. The non-essentials must close at 5 p.m., the supermarkets and other food stores remain open until 8 p.m. Amateur athletes are no longer allowed on the fields or in the halls in the evening after 5 p.m.
Those are measures that will be enforced. Furthermore, the cabinet hopes – not for the first time – that the general alertness in society will really increase. The vulnerable group of over-70s is urged to be more careful, especially in contact with grandchildren. “Protect each other, it’s so important,” said the Prime Minister.
The schools open
The cabinet makes a fundamental political choice in education. Although the classes, from primary school to higher education, are an important source of infection, the government believes that the virological advantage of a new school closure does not outweigh the learning disadvantages and the social problems that this causes. ‘The impact of this on society and the children would be enormous,’ says Rutte.
However, all children and adolescents from group six are obliged to wear face masks outside the classrooms. Children under the age of 12 with a mild nose cold and a snot must stay at home from now on and be tested at the GGD.