The three-month long coronavirus overnight curfew, which led to rioting, challenges in the courts and emergency legislation, finally ended in the Netherlands at 4.30am on Wednesday – despite unremitting pressure on hospitals and an erratic vaccination programme.
Yet another 2 per cent rise in new cases in the week to Tuesday underlined the fragility of a situation in which crowds had to be broken up by police in Amsterdam and other large cities celebrating the annual King’s Day bank holiday on Tuesday, just hours before the final 10pm curfew took effect.
The caretaker government decided to ease selected restrictions against the advice of its own expert panel, some of whom expressed concern at Tuesday’s parties, which led to packed streets and parks and canals full of leisure craft, with little sign of masks or social distancing.
Leading virologist Marion Koopmans, a member of the government's Outbreak Management Team, said the gatherings were "worrying" because, in terms of beating the virus, "we are really not there yet". Alma Tostmann, an epidemiologist, said watching the pictures gave her "stomach ache".
In Amsterdam, where riot police were deployed and more than 50 people arrested, a union representative for the municipal wardens, whose job is to issue fines, said: “It was as if coronavirus did not exist.”
In tandem with the end of the curfew, outdoor restaurants can now reopen from midday to 6pm with a maximum of 50 customers, householders can have two guests a day rather than one, and funerals can have up to 100 mourners – although a ban on the sale of alcohol after 8pm remains.
The official advice against foreign travel until May 15th at the earliest also remains in place, although pressure on the government to clarify how it plans to categorise the risk involved in overseas summer holidays continues to rise.
Despite the easing of restrictions and the public appetite for more, the public health institute, RIVM, said the number of Covid patients in hospital had risen to 2,611 on Wednesday, of whom 814 were in intensive care – the 12th day in a row that the number has topped 800.
The government’s problems with a dysfunctional vaccination programme also worsened on Wednesday.
Although its dashboard says 5.3 million people have been vaccinated, it emerged that the computerised registration system includes about only 70 per cent of the total, making it impossible to calculate the total or to evaluate the programme.
Responding to a separate suggestion that "millions of doses" of AstraZeneca may be left unused, minister for health Hugo de Jonge said he had asked if the 60-64 age bracket for the vaccine could be widened and the gap between the two shots narrowed, to hasten the programme.