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Rutte: “The coronavirus is making a comeback”; New rules for hospitality, groups

A surge in new infections of the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus will translate to new restrictions in at least six regions of the Netherlands beginning on Monday. “The coronavirus is making a comeback,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte said at a press conference Friday night. At the event, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge introduced a three-stage warning system for the 25 security regions of the Netherlands, where 19 regions are at Level 1, or “vigilance”, meaning people still need to pay attention to social distancing rules, and six regions including the four largest cities were placed at the “Worrysome” Level 2.

The six regions at Level 2 include Amsterdam-Amstelland, Rotterdam-Rijnmond, Haaglanden which covers The Hague, Utrecht, Leiden and the rest of Hollands Midden, as well as Kennemerland which includes Haarlem. More regions could be added to the list next week, De Jonge said. No regions were placed at “Serious”, or Level 3.

The hospitality industry in those locations will not be allowed to admit new clientele from midnight, and all facilities must be closed by 1 a.m. The maximum number of people allowed in any location will be capped at 50, with the exception of protests, religious gatherings, funerals, and education facilities.

“It is a conceivable scenario that lockdown-like measures will be taken in specific regions, if necessary,” De Jonge said. This week alone some 8 thousand Netherlands residents tested positive for the virus, almost as many as during the entire months of June and July, according to data from the RIVM. About two-thirds of the positive tests and three quarters of the coronavirus related hospitalizations are in the Randstad.

Mayors in those Level 2 cities will also close off areas where people have gathered to hold parties with little regard for the coronavirus rules. “After this meeting, the mayors will announce the extra measures in their region. We as the Cabinet will support them and will support the measures nationally,” Rutte said.

Since the press conference was announced earlier this week, hospitality association KHN has been very outspoken against any further restrictions in the hospitality and catering sector. According to KHN, catering establishments are unfairly labeled as a big source of infections. “RIVM figures from last week show 113 people for the whole of the Netherlands who became infected in the catering industry,” the trade association said. “That is 5.5 percent of all infected people.”

Police union ACP also raised concerns about plans to set a closing time for catering establishments in part of the country. “We foresee major problems,” spokesperson Gerrit van de Kamp said to Metronieuws. “We do not have the capacity to enforce these rules. But even if we can enforce them, the problem will only move outwards.” According to Van der Kamp, this combination of drinking and a dwindling understanding for the rules can lead to dangerous situations. “This can quickly get out of hand. It’s just impossible.”

The data showed that the basic reproduction (R) number of the infection was at 1.4, meaning 100 contagious people infect 140 others. If the R-number stays at that level, it means the Netherlands will see 10 thousand new infections every day, five times higher than Friday’s single-day total. “The facts are downright worrying,” Rutte said. “Hospital admissions are indeed rising rapidly. The first patients have already been relocated to prevent regular care from being compromised,” he said. The Prime Minister expressed concern for the increasing pressure on nurses, health care workers, and care home staff.

“We are not losing control of the virus, but the rise is worrying and we have to turn it around,” Rutte insisted.

“Is this the second wave? Yes, if we look at the number of infections, but also no, if we look at the situation in hospitals,” De Jonge said. About 280 people were being treated in Dutch hospitals for Covid-19 on Friday, more than double the total 11 days earlier, but far less than during the Spring months.

To free up test capacity, parents will be discouraged from getting some children tested for the virus. “Children under the age of twelve no longer need to be tested. It is allowed, but not necessary. This has to do with the fact that the risk of contagion is small,” De Jonge said. “We are working with all our might to increase the test capacity. Unfortunately, the shortage will continue for a number of weeks, so you only have to be tested if you have complaints.”

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