OMT and Dutch government pessimistic about Christmas coronavirus measures
In November, the Dutch government were cautiously hopeful that coronavirus infections in the Netherlands would drop significantly, allowing Prime Minister Mark Rutte to relax some of the national measures in time for Christmas. However, with Sinterklaas gone and December 25 fast approaching, the cabinet reports seeing little or no room for easing coronavirus restrictions for the holidays.
Rutte and De Jonge to announce Christmas coronavirus measures
Up until now, Rutte has been reluctant to reveal any plans for the coronavirus measures in the Netherlands over the festive period, stating at the press conference on November 17 that he and Health Minister Hugo de Jong would wait and see what happened before announcing the plans for Christmas on December 8.
Initially, the two had expected that some restaurants and cafes might be able to open in time for Christmas and that they would be able to increase the maximum group size rule and number of household guests per day. However, following discussions in The Hague on Sunday, it seems that cabinet ministers feel that the number of infections remains too high to (significantly) relax measures.
The government had hoped that by now the number of infections would have dropped to around 3.000 a day. However, on Sunday, over 6.000 infections were reported. A final decision will be made on Tuesday, but at this rate it looks as though the only possible relaxation is increasing the number of household guests to allow for a larger family gathering. Sources in The Hague say it is unlikely Rutte will opt to extend the school holidays by a week.
OMT: Relaxing measures in the Netherlands is “risky”
While Rutte might be feeling the pressure to relax the measures, members of the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) remain reluctant. One member, Marion Koopmans, called it “risky,” saying that relaxing the measures would risk a third wave in the new year. However, another did tell the AD that it is possible the number of household guests will be increased from three to six.
Speaking to AT5 on Sunday, Menno de Jong, virologist at Amsterdam UMC and member of the OMT, said that, speaking from a purely medical perspective, the infection rate was too high to relax the measures: "With this number of infections and the slight decrease, it is becoming increasingly difficult to think let's relax around Christmas and New Year's Eve."
However, he did acknowledge that the decision that needs to be made is not only medical but also political: “If you look purely on the basis of the virus pressure and the fight against the virus, then it is better not to do anything. But politics also play a role and they make decisions, so we will see what happens."
Security council also discussing measures for Christmas and New Years
The Security Council of the Netherlands, which is made up of the 25 mayors who chair a security region, are meeting in Utrecht on Monday to discuss what action can be taken over the Christmas holidays to avoid "restlessness" among young people.
While many municipalities have taken steps to introduce activities and initiatives to keep young people occupied, many fear this will not be enough. At the meeting, they will also discuss the new coronavirus law, which came into effect on December 1, and how they will enforce, for example, the new mandatory face mask rule.