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Although reopened educational institutions will not close down again, the other relaxations announced tonight could be withdrawn in a few weeks, if necessary.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:
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 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.
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.
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!