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Update 23-02

Hey everyone!

So: finally a press conference at which measures won’t be tightened. As of next week, we will see some relaxations of measures, but only gradually and in steps.

This Saturday, Feb 27th, it will be a full year since we’ve had the first Covid patient diagnosed in NL.
Currently, we’re in a difficult phase in the pandemic. More contagious strains have taken over the majority of infections and a third wave of Covid is soon expected; case rates are increasing again. At the same time, things are not getting easier for all of us. We’re done with the measures. Even though we know the need and urgency of the measures, economic, social, and mental toll is high. The Cabinet attempts to limit the negative effects of the measures. There’s a lot of money available – but that doesn’t solve everything. This is widely recognised by all sorts of government advisors. Measures should be reasonable and understandable, but also remain livable.

To make sure the Netherlands stays livable, the next phase of lockdown is one with slightly more risks. As of next week, some measures will be relaxed. But that comes at a risk. We have to be incredibly careful at this point. Although reopened educational institutions will not close down again, the other relaxations announced tonight could be withdrawn in a few weeks, if necessary. The risk that is taken by allowing these relaxations should be minimised. In order to do so, there’s once again a very urgent call to stick to the basics: distancing, face masks, washing hands, working from home. Together, all of us make a difference in this. If you feel sick, stay at home and get tested. Even if there’s just a little doubt, get tested. If you test positive, stay at home. One in four people who get a positive test result go out to the supermarket or walk their dog. It is unnecessary, and you are factually speaking a risk to others. And that’s a significant risk.

Now, the relaxations. There is one more thing we should be very aware of: these are only possible because of the other measures still in place. The curfew and the guideline to only have one visitor per day are crucial, so please do adhere to them. These measures will be extended until March 15th. A new press conference will be held on Monday, March 8th. On that day, we can also expect more information regarding the upcoming elections in the light of specific Covid-procedures, if necessary.

So, what will change:
Educational institutions
As of Monday, March 1st, high schools and MBOs (post-secondary vocational education) will reopen. This is under strict conditions: MBOs will have one day of physical education, high schools will see at least one day, but where possible more. Of course, distancing is crucial here. As in primary schools, a positive test will result in quarantine and getting tested for the entire class. Students in their final years and practical education can still continue.
For now, there is no update for HBOs (universities of applied sciences) and universities. Education here will continue to be online unless you have practicals.

Contact jobs
Contact jobs can resume as of Wednesday March 3rd. This means that drivers instructors, tattoo shops, hairdressers, manicures, pedicures, and more of such can re-open. The only exception are sex workers, these remain shut down because of the close contact.
Reservations and health checks are mandatory.
Reopening this part of society is good both for the entrepreneurs who see their business suffering, as well as for all of us being able to get a haircut. This branche can re-open because of the relatively small risks; contact here is one-on-one, and these are non-regular events (you don’t go to a hairdresser twice a week). This makes it a relatively small risk for becoming a spreader location.

Non-essential stores
As of Wednesday March 3rd, non-essential stores can also re-open, but very limited. Stores may serve two customers per floor (so small shops can only serve two people at ones). You’ll have to make reservations at least 4 hours in advance, and timeslots at a store will be at least 10 minutes per customer. Of course, face masks and distancing are required here too.
This relaxation serves to give small business owners a chance at getting back to work. It will not do much for bigger chains. Despite potentially sufficient floorspace, there will (at this point in time) be no exceptions for bigger stores such as Ikea. How this regulation plays out exactly will probably become more clear later on.

Sports
As of March 3rd, outdoor sports will be possible again. This will however be limited to team-training within your own sports club. Indoor sports facilities, including swimming pools, and gyms will remain closed.
As for many youth, sport and teams are an important part of their social lives, this ought to help in making youth feel less lonely.

That is all that will be relaxed, unfortunately. Restaurants will continue to be pick-up only, bars remain closed, hotels still are not allowed to have their restaurants open. Sales of alcohol and soft drugs are still prohibited between 20.00h (8pm) and 07.00h (7am).

Although these relaxations may seem to be a small step, they are a potential risk. Although we’re now at a similar case rate as when the curfew was first announced, we now face relaxation of measures. It is fair to ask why this is the case. At large, it is because of the earlier fear of more contagious strains of Covid. To drastically limit the spread of those strains, further-reaching measures had to be announced then, and have to remain in effect now. The curve for a third wave has however quite likely already been flattened quite a bit, and if we all stick to the basics of distancing, face masks, washing hands, working from home, and responsible behavior and getting tested if you feel sick, that third wave might be not as big as previously feared.

Now, the way out, towards a summer with fewer restrictions.
Until sufficient people are vaccinated, we will see a society at large based on restrictions and tests. Relaxation of measures will only come in small steps. Every meeting between persons has the potential of becoming a Covid-spreader, something that should be avoided at all costs.
At the same time, testing should provide a relief, even if infection rates remain high. While testing is now done to see whether you have Covid, we will see a move towards testing to confirm that you do not have Covid. Eventually, this move will mean that attending some form of events will become possible again. The Fieldlab events yesterday will play a big role in determining how that can be done safely, but count on having to prove that you’re not infectious, and smaller-scale events. This will only be towards the summer, however.
Similarly, testing should provide a way forward for more education, also for HBOs and universities. Physical education could eventually become possible again for students with a negative test, as they can prove they’re not a risk.
Be aware that for both education and events, this is not a policy yet, but merely a rough outline of what we can expect in the coming months. As things become more clear, I will of course inform you.

Let’s also briefly talk vaccinations, to get you up to speed. This weekend, we’ve passed the 1 million vaccination mark, and it is expected this will have doubled by half-March. Early April, approximately 3 million shots should have been put in arms, providing protection for many of the weaker in society and their caretakers.
This planning, and also how rapid vaccinations can roll out to everybody else, is still very much dependent on the number of vaccines that gets delivered to the Netherlands. This should significantly increase as of April, but problems at different vaccine-producing facilities have already proven to be a serious problem.
Looking a bit further into the future, everyone in the Netherlands should be vaccinated when fall comes – halfway September. Note here that I have not yet found any definite information on vaccination for internationals in the Netherlands. I do however assume that if you’re registered as living here and/or registered with health insurance and/or a GP, you are included in this rough schedule. More on when ‘everybody’ can get their shot will become clear later on.

Lastly, there’s a small side note on travellers coming in from abroad. Currently, a legal framework is being set up for a mandatory quarantine after arriving in the Netherlands. As only 27% of incoming travellers now self-isolate for the required 5-days period, the government sees a large potential in reducing risk over there. It is not yet clear what this mandatory quarantine will look like. If you do come to the Netherlands before it is imposed though, I kindly ask you pretty please to follow the guidelines and to actually self isolate for five days and to get tested on day five. Nobody wants the risk of a new outbreak, and you certainly wouldn’t want to be the one starting it.

Now, a bit of a reality check. Although vaccines help very much, there is still a potential risk of Covid going around in society, even after everyone has been vaccinated. There is a fair chance people will still get sick, but it won’t be as disruptive and as much of a burden on the healthcare systems anymore. We’re not at the end of this crisis, but we’re starting to get there. The foresights for summer are genuinely good (dixit Hugo de Jonge). This should give us hope.

Until then, it’s small acts of kindness of everybody that we should appreciate and get positivity from. I kindly ask you, pretty please, be that positivity for others. Help out wherever you can. I will also do my best to help you, so if you have any questions, you know where to find me!

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Update 19-02

So all in all, it was quite a big week regarding Covid-matters in the Netherlands, with major decisions about the curfew, education and elections. It’s quite a lot of text, so my apologies for that in advance! As matters, and in particular the curfew court cases, are quite complex, this takes up some more text than you’d perhaps expect.
I’ll try to give you an overview of this week, topic by topic.

The curfew

On Tuesday, there was a court case of the non-Covid believers of Viruswaarheid. They strongly believe that Covid is a relatively harmless virus, that we’ve passed the pandemic status and that it’s now only a minor disease, that healthcare is not overwhelmed, there’s sufficient ICU-capacity, and that counting the number of infections makes no sense whatsoever. While recognising that more vulnerable groups do exist, the scale of current measures is way, way too far-reaching, rather restrictive and bringing the Netherlands to the brink of an authoritarian state.

The case on Tuesday was about the curfew specifically. Viruswaarheid argued that the curfew is a far-reaching infringement of the right to freedom of movement and infringement on one’s personal life. The judge argued this was indeed the case, and that for such a far-reaching measure, a decent legal framework is required. This framework was not present when the curfew was first introduced, as it was then based on a high-priority legal framework. According to the ruling, there was no direct urgency for the curfew when it was introduced, as there had been parliamentary debate about it prior to the decision. All in all, this made the curfew an illegal measure, because of the underlying legal framework. This meant the curfew would end Tuesday, effective immediately.

Later on Tuesday, there was an appeal by the Dutch state specifically aimed at ending the curfew effective immediately. This was purely about whether or not to enforce the curfew, not an appeal regarding the content of the case or judgement. In a nail biter of a court case, in which the judge was challenged because of alleged bias, the legal procedure took the entire afternoon. The judge could continue and at 20.30h, it was decided the curfew could stay in place for now, despite the wonky legal framework.

Subsequently, today there was an appeal case by the Dutch state about the content of the initial judgement of Tuesday. In this, the state claimed the curfew is a necessary measure, and Viruswaarheid claims there is no proof of the effectiveness of the curfew as Covid-measure, and they question the urgency of the current phase of the pandemic – according to them, we’re long past the urgent phase, as described above.
The judge will take a week to time for her deliberations, so we will not know the outcome of this appeal until Friday next week.

Meanwhile, a new legal framework is passing through parliament to give the curfew a decent legal underpinning. This legal framework follows the regular process of any law passing in the Netherlands: being discussed in the Tweede Kamer (parliament), subsequently in the Eerste Kamer (Senate). If it passes both chambers, it will be signed into effect by the Dutch King. Update 19-02 22.00h: This new legal framework has passed through both chambers.

So, what does this mean for our ability to be outside in the evening?
Currently, nothing changes. At least until February 26th, a curfew applies. Depending on the outcome of the court appeal then, it could be that the curfew is indeed judged to be illegal. If this illegality is because of the legal underpinning framework solely, it will most likely have no effect – as we will have a new legal framework then. If the illegality is because of the far-reaching effects the curfew has on people, which is an entirely different potential ground. If that would be the case, a new legal framework most likely wouldn’t solve that – so we will see what happens then. I’m no judge, so I don’t know what way it’s going to go. We will have to see and wait.

Education

In a mid-day press conference on Wednesday, an 8,5 billion euro support package was announced to prevent Covid-rooted lasting damage in the Dutch education system and amongst students. This means a financial input for schools (~€180.000 for primary schools, ~€1.300.000 for secondary education) to invest in effective prevention and recovery programmes, multi-level early high-school years (so-called brugklassen).

Aside from that, the academic year 2021-2022 will see tuition fees halved for Dutch educational institutions. At this point, it is not clear whether this does apply to international students. I am also not sure if this applies if you pay a higher tuition fee because of your specific faculty rules (e.g. at a University College), but even then you will see at least a discount of €1100 on your tuition fee. There are no plans for additional compensation for students graduating this academic year, aside from people graduating with a delay from last year.
Students who need an extra year to graduate will have their student-OV extended for an extra year.

Lastly, on the Dutch Elections,
Perhaps you’re aware Dutch elections are coming up. As this is not a Covid-matter, I will not discuss the specificities of this election here on dutchcovidnews.nl, but some Covid-related sidenotes may come through, like this one.
For the elections on March 17th, it was decided that the elderly (70+) can vote by mail. In the court case, it was argued this is discriminatory against younger voters, so there was a call for wider in-mail ballots, and not solely for the elderly. In this case, the state did win, meaning in-mail votes won’t be extended.

If you have any questions, you know where/how to reach me. As a last thing, I want to gratefully thank those of you who have made a donation and in particular for the nice messages accompanying them.

Take care of yourself, take care of your friends and loved ones, and please behave wisely in regard to Covid rules and guidelines!

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Update 02-02

Hi all. Based on the press conference, there is little positive news, but some minor positive changes to what we can do. We are however in an uncertain and quite tensive. So, what is going to change?

In short, not much.
Although both infection rates and hospitalisation rates do decrease, calculations show that a third wave seems virtually inevitable, mostly due to more contagious strains of Covid. This includes the variants first discovered in Brazil, South Africa, and the UK. This last strain in particular is making its way through NL. While the ‘old’ Covid variant now has a R-rate of 0,85 and is thus decreasing, the newer contagious strains have an estimated R-rate of around 1,3, meaning it effectively doubles the number of infections weekly. Currently, around 2/3rds of all Covid cases in NL are now from the ‘British’ mutation.
This is the very reason further relaxations of measures currently aren’t possible, and why the current lockdown is extended to at least March 2nd. A new press conference and update about this will be announced on Tuesday Feb 23rd, in three weeks.

Probably your most burning question, what does that do for the curfew?
The curfew Is now scheduled to end on Feb 10th 04.30 (4.30 am). Having one does however show some effects, so the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) will have a further recommendation later this week, also in the broader context of the current lockdown measures.
The contents of this recommendation will probably be discussed next weekend, so don’t expect to hear anything about this until next week Monday – aside from perhaps some rumours.
So, we don’t know what will happen to the curfew just yet, and it is very much possible we will only hear about this the night before the curfew could perhaps end.

Then, what will change as of next week?
Two things: primary education and children’s daycare, and shop openings.

Primary education and children’s daycare
As of Monday February 8th, primary schools can re-open, as can children’s daycare. That does not include BSO’s (after-school). This reopening means that for some 2 million kids in total, some normalcy will return.
This decision has been made as research shows that children contribute not as much to the spread of Covid, also not for the more contagious variants. In general, research has also shown relatively few infections amongst primary education staff.
The reopening of primary schools sees one big but: if a child in a class test positive for Covid, the entire class, including teacher will have to go in quarantine for at least five days, after which they can get tested and afterwards back to school.

As BSOs see children from many schools gathered, these will remain closed, as will secondary and tertiary educational institutions.
It is hoped that secondary education can reopen early March, after spring break. But no guarantees whatsoever.

Stores
As store closures are a major inconvenience for everyone. That is why as of Wednesday February 10th, so-called click & collect will be possible – but not necessarily available everywhere. This is to ensure shopping locations won’t get too busy. That is why click&collect locations will only be available when you
– Order at home, either online for via phone
– Pick up outside and not in store
– Pick up alone
– Pick up within a set timeslot
– Pick up at least for hours after ordering.
This is to ensure there won’t be any ‘fun shopping’, but only required and well-deliberate purchases.

Now, looking forward

For the way out, a new roadmap has been published. This one includes a way forward and clear rates at which relaxations would be possible – but also updated values at which more restrictions would have to be imposed again.

Eventually, vaccinations are the main way out of this pandemic. Vaccinations did see an exceptionally slow start in the Netherlands, but last week there were some 200.000 vaccinations, and this week there’s 250.000 scheduled. As of this week, these vaccinations will also be for all 80+ people in NL, as they will get their calls to get vaccinated.
Once the most vulnerable in our society are vaccinated, we will see relaxations of restrictions. This is expected to be in March, but once again no promises.
Vaccination deliveries come in at a disappointingly slow rate – not only in NL but in the entire EU. This is not expected to improve until some time in March.

Until March, we will see increased testing. This testing will also provide some perspectives for societal reopenings, is the hope at least. This would include rapid test before events or indoor theatres, etcetera. This will at first be at a small scale, to later be scaled up if it works.

Some last words from Mark Rutte and Hugo de Jonge. We currently face three crises at once: a health crisis, an economic crisis, and a social crisis. That last one hits everyone. There’s a significant increase in mental health struggles, increased loneliness, increased passiveness, and all sorts of consequences that brings. If you struggle with serious depressive feelings, please check out deluisterlijn.nl. They have a list of phone numbers and a chatbox available for you to help. If there’s anything more specific, reach out to your friends or to me and I’ll try to guide you as good as possible.

That’s all for now. Stay healthy, stay safe, stay sane. Wear your facemask, keep washing your hands, and look out for each other. And I’m always here to help!
Lots of love!