SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands is scrapping most of its coronavirus measures from June 26, although the 1.5 metre rule remains, and face masks will still be required on public transport and in airports.
‘Looking at the figures, and at the Outbreak Management Team advice, this is a responsible decision,’ prime minister Mark Rutte told reporters at a press conference on Friday.
‘From June 26, the 1.5 metre rule remains the main measure, supported by hand washing, staying home with complaints and testing with symptoms,’ he said. ‘Everything which can be done at 1.5 metres distance is allowed and there will be no restrictions.’
This means, the prime minister said, that groups can watch football together and you can meet friends in the park – as long as you stay 1.5 metres apart. Theatres, museums and cinemas can also welcome more guests, as long as they keep their distance.
Sports clubs can host competitions again, as long as the 1.5 metre rule is adhered to before and after the match. Masks will, however, remain compulsory in secondary schools until the summer holidays.
People can also go back to the office, as long as they can keep 1.5 metres away from their colleagues and continue to spend 50% of their time at home. The events sector can start up again from June 30, to give local authorities enough time to prepare.
And in order to ditch the 1.5 metre rule, festivals and clubs can operate the ‘test for entry’ scheme, which will be free at approved locations in July and August.
However, to prevent people bringing back the virus after a holiday abroad, the government is asking everyone to take a test when they return, and self-testing will be free for people who don’t have symptoms.
The details of how that will be administered are still being worked out, Rutte said. Youngsters returning from abroad after celebrating passing their exams can have a test at a regional health board from Monday.
‘I can’t emphasise enough that coronavirus is not gone,’ health minister Hugo de Jonge said. ‘That is why we are asking everyone who comes back to take a test.’ On August 13, the first cabinet meeting after the recess, ministers will decide if the 1.5 metre rule can be scrapped.
That, said De Jonge, depends on the vaccination rate being as high as possible and the infection rate remaining low. Nevertheless, there are several uncertainties which can change the current optimism, Rutte said.
Firstly, it remains to be seen what the vaccination rate is and if all population groups are well covered. In addition, there could be new variants. People may also bring infections back from holiday and, said Rutte, we do not yet know what the seasonal impact is.
People returning from a country considered to be high risk, such as Britain, are still required to go into mandatory quarantine and the first fines have already been handed out to people who have not followed the rules, De Jonge said. ‘The chance of getting caught is very real,’ he said.