Netherlands drops most Covid restrictions as Omicron peak passes

Virologist warns that more gradual easing of restrictions would make more sense

The Netherlands, Europe's most densely populated country, ended the overwhelming majority of its coronavirus restrictions on Friday, two years after the country's first case of the virus was identified in Tilburg on February 27th, 2020.

For the time being at least, 1½-metre social distancing and coronavirus passes become artefacts from the past. Cafes, bars and restaurants revert to their pre-pandemic opening hours. And obligatory face masks, which it took the Dutch so long to accept, are being largely dispensed with.

The only two remnants of the Covid regime will be that masks will remain the norm on public transport, including on aircraft, and that in the case of large events of more than 500 participants, with no fixed seating, negative tests will still be necessary for entry.

"These two things are the only measures that will remain from this important date, February 25th", said health minister Ernst Kuipers, who took office as part of the new coalition government last month.


“The country is now over the peak of the Omicron variant. And despite the fact that infection rates remain high, at around 55,000 a day, hospital admissions are fairly stable.

“Even so, we still need to be cautious in our contact with people who may be vulnerable – and take into account that another variant may arrive in the Netherlands at any time.”

Virologist’s warning

That note of caution was echoed by virologist Marion Koopmans, a member of the government's advisory outbreak management team.

“People who are vulnerable because of auto-immune diseases or simply old age will really have to take care for a long time to come. As a virologist, I’d prefer to have seen things progress more slowly and gradually.”

Another critic was Marjan Rintel, chief executive of rail operator NS, angry that masks had not been scrapped outright. "We'll have to explain to passengers why they're obligatory in one place but not in another."

In terms of travel, people coming to the Netherlands from high-risk countries outside the EU will still need a negative test to travel. However, the quarantine requirement on returning to the Netherlands ends.

The easing is good news for prime minister Mark Rutte’s new coalition government. A survey this week by I&O Research showed a fillip in support for the coronavirus policy begun by the last coalition and continued by the current one, from 45 to 51 per cent.

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