Netherlands reintroduces social distancing as Covid cases surge

U-turn on coronavirus restrictions comes as 23,000 new infections recorded in 24 hours

In the latest in a series of rapid U-turns on coronavirus restrictions, the Dutch caretaker government has reimposed social distancing with immediate effect – having abandoned it in late September before last month “urgently recommending” it again as the virus surged.

More than 23,000 new infections were registered in 24 hours on Tuesday, just shy of a new national record, with 488 of the country’s 1,050 intensive care beds occupied by coronavirus patients, the majority of whom are unvaccinated.

A spokesman for the country's intensive care consultants, Diederik Gommers, warned that a "code black" – where doctors are forced to decide who, individually, gets emergency treatment and who does not – would come into effect in a maximum of 10 days' time.

Hours later, the Netherlands transferred an initial two coronavirus patients across the border to German hospitals for the first time since the height of the initial wave in 2020, to ease pressure on the gridlocked Dutch system.


The Dutch health authority, NZA, revealed that almost one-third of all operating theatres had been closed to limit the use of intensive care beds.

Stricter measures

The caretaker government of premier Mark Rutte has indicated that the return of social distancing may be just the start of a range of stricter measures, the first of which could come as soon as Friday.

Clearly recalling the legal challenges to its overnight curfew last year, the justice ministry said that because social distancing had been abolished as a legal obligation, the latest decision would have to be “anchored in law”, which means being passed again by parliament.

The new social distancing requirement will not apply to people from the same household or in circumstances where entry is regulated by CoronaCheck QR code, such as most bars and restaurants and many other public venues, including museums and theatres.

However, from Wednesday morning, police and local authority wardens were again given authority to issue formal warnings, with a €95 fine for repeat offenders.


This is not the first U-turn of its type. Having been one of the last countries in the EU to make masks mandatory, the Netherlands became one of the first to abandon them during the summer – before reintroducing them early last month.

It also reimposed shorter opening hours for bars, restaurants, supermarkets and non-essential shops, along with restrictions on spectators at sports events and on the numbers allowed to visit private homes, when it announced a three-week “partial lockdown” less than a fortnight ago.

That sparked riots in Rotterdam and The Hague last weekend, during which police fired live rounds.

In any case it hadn’t worked, health minister Hugo de Jonge said in a letter to MPs on Wednesday evening, writing: “The infection rate is higher than ever before.”

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