Netherlands finally eases Covid restrictions as infections fall

Stage two sees reopening of outdoor swimming pools, amusement park and gyms

Dutch health minister Huge de Jonge: “We are now seeing the convincing drop we have been waiting for in the main indicators, and that is largely due to the impact of the vaccines”. Photograph: Bart Maat/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Dutch health minister Huge de Jonge: “We are now seeing the convincing drop we have been waiting for in the main indicators, and that is largely due to the impact of the vaccines”. Photograph: Bart Maat/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

 

After a false start earlier this month, the Netherlands has finally moved on to the second stage of its five-stage coronavirus reopening plan – following a fall of more than 25 per cent in new cases of infection in the week to Tuesday.

This new phase allows for the reopening of outdoor swimming pools, amusement parks, zoos, libraries, and gyms, with an extension of outdoor restaurant hours from 6pm to 8pm.

The country’s 20,000-plus regulated sex workers are also back in business, having been shut down last December and taking to the streets in March to protest at not being allowed to reopen at the same time as other “contact businesses”such as masseurs and hairdressers.

“We are now seeing the convincing drop we have been waiting for in the main indicators, and that is largely due to the impact of the vaccines,” said health minister Huge de Jonge after a meeting with the Outbreak Management Team.

“This easing is a responsible step for us to take at this stage – but we have to remain very careful.”

The caretaker government decided last month, despite opposition from its own experts, to go ahead with stage one of reopening: the ending of the overnight curfew, the reopening of outdoor restaurants for limited hours, and a doubling of daily household guests to two.

Since then, however, the expert Outbreak Management Team has been emphatic about monitoring that first stage before any further easing, and demanding a stable reduction of at least 20 per cent in new hospital admissions over seven days.

As a result stage two of the reopening was postponed at the start of this month but finally came into effect on Wednesday,

Hospitalisations

According to public health institute RIVM, coronavirus hospitalisations in the Netherlands have just seen their biggest fall since the start of February.

In the week to Tuesday, the number of new cases dropped to 35,142 from 47,108, a fall of 25.4 per cent, with 90 deaths reported during the same seven days compared to 164 over the previous seven.

The R number at which the virus reproduces is 0.89, compared with 1.01 at the end of April.

Also in the week to Tuesday, 1,152 Covid patients were admitted to hospital, 21 per cent fewer than the previous week. As a result there were 646 patients in intensive care on Tuesday, the lowest number since March 27th.

If this is a turning point and current improvements continue, the third stage of the reopening will follow on June 9th, when museums and art galleries will reopen, restaurants will be able to cater indoors, and visitors to private homes will increase again.

The blanket ban on foreign travel was lifted on May 15th, and replaced with a traffic light system.