Having been the last European Union country to start vaccinating against coronavirus, the Netherlands has pledged that every one of its eligible citizens will have received at least one jab by July 1st – marking the beginning of the end of controversial restrictions.
The commitment came at the weekly pandemic briefing by outgoing caretaker premier Mark Rutte and minister for health Hugo de Jonge a matter of days before the country goes to the polls in a general election regarded as a referendum on its handling of a crisis that has left 15,000 people dead.
The delay in the vaccination programme, which started on January 6th, has been potentially damaging for the four-party coalition – especially since at one point there were 40,000 doses lying in storage waiting to be administered.
Mr De Jonge said some of that leeway had now been taken up, with 1.6 million jabs given to far, an estimated 283,600 of them administered in the past week.
“At this rate, we should be able to carry out 18 million injections by the end of the second quarter,” he said, though he has been cautious in all his predictions to stress that they depend on vaccine supply continuing to meet demand.
“That means that by the summer we’ll have said goodbye to most of the restrictions”, he added.
That was the good news at Tuesday’s briefing. Less welcome will have been the decision to continue the lockdown and the overnight curfew until the end of March at the earliest, and the recommendation to avoid all foreign travel until after April 15th.
“If you listen to people it’s obvious that the lockdown in this form cannot continue,” said Mr Rutte.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep going. The experts tell us now is not the time to relax the rules – but we hope to take steps around Easter to start resuming our normal lives. We are nearing the tipping point at which the vaccine will gain the upper hand.”
Mr Rutte’s optimism appears to be justified in the case of nursing homes where the virus is continuing to decline. Tuesday’s statistics showed 332 homes reporting at least one infection in the past fortnight, whereas a week ago that number was 394.
In the wider population, however, what’s become known as “the yo-yo effect” – where cases fall only to rebound – remains an apparently intractable problem.
Another 3,924 new cases were logged in the 24 hours to Tuesday, just below the seven-day average which has hovered at about 4,500 for the past fortnight. Similarly, the number in intensive care is back at a level last seen in early-February.