SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Ministers have not yet reached a decision about whether the coronavirus rules can be relaxed again from May 15, following weekend talks with health experts.
On Sunday, ministers met at the prime minister’s official Catshuis residence but sources told broadcaster NOS and the Telegraaf that more research into the current infection situation is needed before any new measures can be taken.
There will be a new cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, ahead of the evening press conference, during which prime minister Mark Rutte has pledged to give more information about the potential for foreign travel in the summer.
Hospital admissions have gone down by 10% over the past few days, but the Outbreak Management Team said earlier that the decline should be 20% before the rules can be relaxed further.
The next step in the government’s five point plan involves reopening amusement parks, zoos and gyms, and widening café and restaurant opening hours. Last week ministers agreed that the decline in positive cases and hospital admissions was not concrete enough to merit a further reduction.
The current recommendations for foreign travel are also due to expire on May 15 and, according to NOS, travel to areas which have a green or yellow risk level may again be an option.
However, the broadcaster points out, people from the Netherlands may not be welcome without a negative test or vaccination certificate. DutchNews.nl has asked the health ministry if plans are being made to make it easier for family members of non-EU nationals to visit.
‘The minister understands that the travel restrictions can hit people hard, and that is why we are looking to see what more can be done,’ a health ministry spokesman told DutchNews.nl.
‘There are exceptions [to the current rules] for family members, but they do have to meet the standards for entry, such as have a negative coronavirus test and go into quarantine,’ the spokesman said. Over 21,000 people have so far signed a petition calling for change to the current rules, which mean thousands of foreign workers in the Netherlands have not seen their parents for over a year.
Meanwhile, the FieldLab organisation which has been staging ‘coronavirus-free’ events for the past three months says it now has enough data to be able to make recommendations about safely organising congresses and theatre shows.
Programme manager Pieter Lubberts told NOS radio that the 1.5 metre rule can be dropped for type one events, where people sit and are quiet, if people have a negative test before the event and wear a face mask.
Nevertheless, organising an event during a pandemic can never be 100% safe, Lubberts said. It is now up to politicians to decide what to do, he said. ‘In the meantime, we are pressing ahead, because we are doing this for a sector that employs 100,000 people.’
The number of positive tests is going down, although the percentage of people testing positive has risen from 10.7% to 12.1%. On Sunday, public health institute RIVM reported 6,704 new positive tests but the weekly figure is distorted by computer problems the previous weekend.
Data analyst Marino van Zelst told NOS that fewer people are taking a PCR test because of the rise of self testing. ‘But we can only say things are going in the right direction when the number of positive tests and the percentage of tests proving positive are both going down,’ he said.
The drop in infections is across all age groups apart from those aged 20 to 29. This could be connected to the large crowds who gathered to celebrate Kings Day in the spring sunshine.
‘You always see the first increase in the most mobile group, and that is the 20 to 29-year-olds,’ virologist Amrish Baidjoe said. ‘That is what we saw last summer as well.’
Contact tracing also shows that there was rise in the number of people who became infected at a ‘party’ in the week April 27 to May 4. In absolute terms, however, the figures are low – 401 people compared with 150 in the preceding weeks.