Dutch Covid-19 cases rise to confound claims country has ‘turned corner’

Wearing masks obligatory from December 1st – a big shift for the socially liberal Dutch

Although the Dutch government says it believes the second wave of Covid-19 has peaked, the virus has confounded expectations over the past 72 hours – pushing back to more than 6,000 new cases a day on Friday after falling less than a week ago to just over 4,500 daily.

As recently as Tuesday, health minister Hugo de Jonge pointed to a sharp reduction of almost 32 per cent in new cases in the previous week as evidence that the “partial lockdown” introduced in mid-October was finally working, and said the country had “turned a corner”.

After the Netherlands hit a high of 11,119 new cases a day on October 30th, the minister forecast that the trend was now downward as a result of the government's "recommendation" to wear masks, the closure of restaurants and cafes for a second time and tighter restrictions on public and private gatherings.

On that basis, he confirmed that the most stringent measures being considered as the second wave took hold – particularly regional curfews and closing secondary schools for a second time in the worst-affected areas – would now be placed on hold.


During his weekly briefing, Mr de Jonge did warn, however, that the number of infections remained too high and encouraged the public to “continue to work patiently together to maintain this downward trend”.

Rising numbers

Within hours that caution was justified when the figures began heading upwards again, rising by 738 new cases on Wednesday, 250 on Thursday and 438 on Friday, bringing the daily total to 6,109.

At the same time there are still 2,181 coronavirus patients in hospital and 609 in intensive care, with an average of 77 deaths a day over the past seven days – although the pressure on hospitals has eased considerably compared with a fortnight ago, when patients were being transferred to Germany.

Also on the positive side, experts point to the fact that the R number, which measures the spread of the virus, remains below 1, although it was perched precariously at 0.91 on Friday evening.

As the medical battle continues, the government has finally announced that wearing masks will be obligatory rather than voluntary from December 1st on pain of a €95 fine when new emergency laws come into effect – a huge cultural shift for the socially liberal Dutch.

One of those new laws will reduce the penalty for failing to socially distance from €390 to €95 because fines over €100 incur a criminal record in the Netherlands, which was regarded as too punitive in a pandemic.

One beneficiary of that change will be justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus, who will now escape a criminal record after a huge controversy when he failed to socially distance at his wedding in August.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court