New measures on the way: the cabinet is now mainly fighting the hopelessness

Outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the Catshuis on Thursday for consultations about new corona measures.Statue Freek van den Bergh

Would Mark Rutte ever long for that March 16, 2020, when he prepared the country live from the Torentje for months of lockdown misery: ‘Unprecedented for countries in peacetime (…) You wonder, is this really happening?’

It actually happened and few people blamed him. The Netherlands sighed and sighed, but understood why it was necessary. Months later, research agency I&O Research determined that the prime minister enjoyed ‘more authority and appreciation than ever’.

Whatever the cabinet announces on Friday evening: it will no longer be the case. A new package of harsh social restrictions plunges millions of entrepreneurs, families, athletes, artists and culture vultures into a deep pool of frustration. However, if the cabinet is unable to give the impression that it is now serious about fighting the virus, then for the first time a head-on collision with the ‘white coats’ threatens: a growing number of members of the Outbreak Management Team can express their own pent-up anger about government policy. have recently ceased to be. Minister Hugo de Jonge himself expressed the situation sharply earlier this week: ‘The stretch is gone in the hospitals and the stretch is gone in society.’

Choosing between many evils

The cabinet has to choose between many evils, and then also in the knowledge that there is no other option than to recognize that the strategy for this winter has completely failed. The vaccination rate is lower than expected, the vaccines protect less well against infection than hoped, the corona tickets have not helped enough, the intensive care capacity has not been increased, and for the third time, after summer 2020 and summer 2021, the cabinet will have to defend the House of Representatives against the accusation that – in September – it relaxed too quickly and carelessly.

Pointing to other countries – ‘We’re all in the same boat’ – doesn’t help much this time, because for the time being there is no other country in Western Europe except Austria where ‘code black’ in hospitals is so close again. The fact that the Netherlands is also so hesitantly lagging behind with the booster vaccination – which appears to offer vulnerable elderly people extra protection against hospitalization – further fuels the national chagrin.

The first U-turn in communication was made on Wednesday. Two weeks ago, the 2G policy (access only for vaccinated or cured people) was presented with full conviction as the means to get through the winter, now De Jonge admits reluctantly that this could only have worked if the cabinet had acted sooner. to bring the situation in hospitals under control. The strategy was only successful if the secret intention was to let the situation get out of hand to such an extent that there would be political support for 2G. Even the ChristenUnie no longer dares to say no to it.


But in the short term, the cabinet will have to change things up a bit. Main question: how does perspective return as quickly as possible? Because at the start of the first lockdown everyone shared the panic, at the start of the second there was the beckoning prospect of a vaccine. Now that the third is on the way, there is a particular threat of hopelessness.

The cabinet is still quietly hoping that the ever-growing herd immunity will now help quickly – as seems to have happened in Great Britain. That moment will indeed come, the experts also say, but nobody dares to predict when exactly. In any case, it is too uncertain to present it as a solution now.

And so Rutte and De Jonge are again left to their own devices, in the knowledge that there has never been such a high wall of skepticism between them and the rest of the country: this time they succeed in formulating a strategy that is convincing. as a promising plan not to make this winter a copy of the previous one?

Leave a Reply