- Another 5,214 people tested positive for an infection of the coronavirus, the fifth-straight day where new infections topped 5,000, according to the data released by public health agency RIVM on Monday 23 November. Although the total was down 4% from Sunday’s total, it was 7% higher than a week earlier.”We are not near the number of 4,000 yet,” said Ernst Kuipers, the head of the Dutch acute care providers network, during a press conference on Monday. “We should not be talking about relaxing the rules until then.” He did say he was optimistic about the situation, “but it is going very slowly.”
Over the past seven days, an average of 5,337 new infections were reported by the RIVM, about 2% lower than the previous week. The stagnating figures, which have shown signs of rising in recent days, led Prime Minister Mark Rutte to caution that if people do not stick to the current restrictions in place the country might have to enforce them more strictly over the Christmas and New Year’s period than hoped.
Meanwhile, hospitals admitted 151 more patients with COVID-19 into regular care between the afternoons of Sunday and Monday. During that time, 23 people were admitted into intensive care, according to patient coordination office LCPS. The intensive care admissions also needs to fall to about 10 per day for coronavirus restrictions to be lifted responsibly, Kuipers said. An average of 33 ICU admissions were reported each of the past seven days.
The current admitted hospital total rose by 35 patients to 1,968, which was still nearly 8% lower than a week ago. That consistent decrease in the patient total since 3 November gave Kuipers some degree of optimism. The total number of ICU patients with the coronavirus disease fell by 4 to 536, while outside of the ICU hospitals were treating 1,432 patients, an increase of 39.
Kuipers was also very pleased about the news that another vaccine against the coronavirus, this one developed by the University of Oxford with AstraZeneca, showed up to 90% effectiveness in testing. “Very positive, it is absolutely positive,” he said.
The new data from the RIVM pushed the total number of Dutch infections closer to the half-million mark, with 489,818 diagnosed with the infection since the end of February. However, testing for the virus remained very low until 1 June when anyone in the country could arrange a test. Since then, the GGD municipal health services alone have completed over 4.1 million coronavirus tests.
The city with the most infected residents in Monday’s data was Amsterdam with 235, down 29% compared to the previous week. Rotterdam showed a similar 27% drop down to 200, and 6% fewer residents of The Hague tested positive for the infection, or 116 in total. Additionally, 54 more deaths were linked to COVID-19, slightly below the seven-day average of 60. To date, 8,945 people have died as a result of the disease.
- In addition to the ban on lighting and selling fireworks, the Dutch government will also ban the transport of fireworks this year, Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus of Justice and Security said after meeting with the Security Council on Monday. This ban will allow the police to confiscate fireworks bought abroad, NOS reports.Currently, Netherlands residents are allowed to have a maximum of 25 kilograms of legal fireworks in non-public areas, such as at home or in the trunk of your car. Once the new rules take effect, you will not be allowed to transport fireworks at all, not by foot nor by car. If you bought fireworks in Belgium, for example, the police can confiscate them as soon as you cross the Dutch border.
A number of mayors asked for a ban on the possession of fireworks, because enforcers are now only allowed to act if they catch someone lighting fireworks. If they only have the fireworks on them, nothing can be done. But Minister Grapperhaus called this too legally complicated. He pointed out that a ban on the transport of fireworks basically comes down to the same thing.
The government wants no fireworks this New Year’s, so that fireworks-related injuries do not put extra pressure on a healthcare system which already carries the load of the coronavirus pandemic. To make this ban possible, legislation must be amended via an urgent procedure that must be approved by the European Commission. The government hopes to have this amendment in place by 15 December 15 latest. Until then, Netherlands residents are still allowed to transport 25 kilos of legal fireworks.
The rules will be enforced by municipal enforcement officers and the police. Enforcers can only fine people if they’re caught in the act of lighting fireworks. The police can search boxes, bags and trunks if they suspect someone is in possession of illegal fireworks, but they can not search preemptively for the presence of fireworks, according to the broadcaster.
People who still have fireworks at home will be allowed to keep them there, as long as they have no more than 25 kilos. They will only be allowed to light them next New Year’s however.
- Elderly people, medically vulnerable people, and healthcare workers who are in direct contact with COVID-19 patients will be the first people in the Netherlands to be vaccinated against the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus. The Dutch Cabinet decision means it will move forward with the advice it received earlier this week from its healthcare advisory board.”The sooner these people are protected from the virus, the sooner we can move beyond the most restrictive measures,” the Health Ministry said in a statement. The Cabinet has set aside 700 million euros to purchase vaccines, and estimated the logistical cost of vaccinating the public at between 900 million and 1 billion euros.
The vaccines will be provided free of charge to members of the public. The decision to get vaccinated will be voluntary, the Cabinet said in a statement, reaffirming what Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said at a press conference earlier this week.
The advice from the Gezondheidsraad focused on the elderly and medically vulnerable population because they are the most likely to require hospitalization if they become infected with the virus. The very first doses, which De Jonge expected to arrive in the Netherlands during the first quarter of 2021, will go towards the 155,000 nursing home residents, people with intellectual disabilities living in an institution, and the employees of those facilities.
After that, those over 60 with an underlying medical condition will be eligible for the vaccination, starting with the oldest people. From there, those over 60 without an underlying condition will be next in line, followed by anyone under 60 with such medical issues, and health care workers who come in contact with COVID-19 patients.
“The vaccine is our most important asset to overcome this crisis, to put the pandemic behind us,” De Jonge said on Friday. “Yet it is not the vaccine that will make the difference, but vaccination. It is the injection in the upper arm that prevents disease, and saves lives, and ensures that we can pick up our old life bit by bit.”
By the end of the first quarter, De Jonge believes that 3.5 million people will be vaccinated. There are an estimated five million people in the Netherlands who are elderly, have underlying medical conditions, or who are care workers with COVID-19 patients. Some 17.4 million people were living in the Netherlands at the start of 2020.
The first vaccine deliveries are expected to come from AstraZeneca (11.7 million doses ordered) and Pfizer/BioNTech (7.8 million). A report in Reuters published this week said that the European Union was paying 15.50 euros per dose delivered by Pfizer. A decision on the safety of these two vaccine candidates was expected from the European Medicines Agency by the end of the year.
The EMA was also expected to decide on vaccines from Moderna and Johnson&Johnson, the latter having been developed by Leiden-based pharmaceutical firm Janssen. A deal with Moderna for 3.1 million units was still being negotiated, with 7.8 million doses of the Janssen vaccine pre-ordered. Deals were also closed with Curevac for 8.8 million units, and Sanofi for 11.7 million doses. All vaccine candidates except the Janssen product were expected to require two doses per person.
- The Outbreak Management Team advised the government to look into whether the school holidays over Christmas can be extended by a week. As COVID-19 infections are still high, no further relaxation of measures is advised, sources told NOS and RTL Nieuws.According to the OMT, it is possible that the autumn holidays contributed to a drop in coronavirus infections. The closure of schools has already been mentioned as a measure to further reduce the current number of infections, but the government considers this a last resort. An extra week of holiday for all school kids could be an interim solution.
Over the past days, the number of coronavirus infections remained at a high level and there is still a lot of pressure on the healthcare system. The OMT therefore advised against a further relaxation of the coronavirus measures for the time being.
The current plan is for Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Health Minister Hugo de Jonge to hold a press conference on 8 December. The OMT will give the government updated advice on how to proceed before then, RTL’s sources said.
- Face masks will officially be mandatory for everyone over the age of 13 in all indoor public spaces from 1 December. Those who do not comply with this rule will be fined 95 euros, according to a ministerial regulation Ministers Hugo de Jonge of Public Health, Ferdinand Grapperhaus of Justice and Security, and Kasja Ollongren of Home Affairs submitted to parliament on Friday 20 November.The face mask must completely cover the nose and mouth and must be designed to prevent the spread of viruses. “It is therefore preferable to use masks that can be purchased at the drugstore or supermarket.” A splash shield or face shield does not cover the nose and mouth completely and is therefore not an alternative to a face mask. The same goes for scarves and bandannas.
The obligation applies to all public indoor spaces, including shops, museums, restaurants and theaters, though people can take off their mask if they are in their fixed seat. This means masks must be worn when you arrive at a restaurant or cinema, for example, but can be taken off at your table or in your seat. You have to put the mask back on if you get up for any reason. Face masks were already mandatory for passengers using public transport. From 1 December this will also apply at stations, airports, bus and tram stops.
In all types of education, except primary education, teachers, lecturers, students and other staff must wear a mask when moving through the school building. The mask can be removed during class when everyone has a fixed seat or standing place. Gym, singing, theater, dance and certain forms of practical education are excluded from the mask obligation. In contact businesses like hair salons, driving schools, and nail salons, both the professional and the client must wear a mask.
People who cannot wear a mask due to a disability or illness are exempted from the face mask obligation. Though the police and enforcement officers can ask someone to demonstrate that this exemption applies to them. Buildings intended for the practice of religion, like churches, mosques, temples and synagogues, are also exempted from the obligation. Face masks are also not required during sports, acting, musical rehearsals or performances, and when giving interviews on radio and TV.
Face masks are made mandatory through a ministerial regulation, legally substantiated by the coronavirus law. It will initially apply for three months, after which extension is possible. The regulation will be withdrawn as soon as it is no longer medially necessary. The lower house of the Dutch parliament, has seven days to consider the regulation.
- The Dutch benefits agency UWV denied Uber permission to dismiss a group of employees at its international headquarters in Amsterdam. According to UWV, the ride-hailing company failed to show that the dismissals were structurally necessary, NRC reports.In June, Uber terminated the contracts of 200 workers in Amsterdam as part of global lay-offs. The company applied for collective redundancies at the UWV for the affected employees. Many of the employees already individually signed for voluntary departure, before the UWV approved the redundancies.
According to NRC, the employees were put under high pressure to sign for voluntary departure. They were informed of their dismissal via video call on 12 June, were disconnected from all internal systems a day later, received daily reminders from Uber to sign for voluntary departure, and were told that “their position ceased to exist”, the newspaper wrote.
About 10 of the 200 employees refused to sign for voluntary departure. A number of them received a letter from the UWV on Thursday, saying that Uber could not provide sufficient arguments to justify the dismissal.
Uber said the lay-offs were the result of “the dramatic impact of the pandemic and the unpredictable nature of a possible recovery,” according to the newspaper. But according to the UWV, the company could not sufficiently demonstrate that the work reduction the company is facing is of a structural nature. UWV also pointed out that Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi repeatedly told his staff that the revenue decline was slower than initially thought. And in a staff meeting on 1 September, Khosrowshahi said that the layoffs were “stricter than absolutely necessary”.
Trade union FNV is “very pleased” by the UWV’s decision, a spokesperson said to NRC. “This shows that powerful companies such as Uber are simply bound by Dutch dismissal law if they want to fire employees.”
- From 2024, supermarkets in the Netherlands will no longer be allowed to sell cigarettes and other related products, the Dutch government confirmed on Friday. The Cabinet believes it will make it easier for smokers to quit, and harder for others to take up the habit.Tobacco products will no longer be sold in vending machines starting in 2022, and online tobacco sales will be forbidden the year after. It should lead to a reduction of 120,000 smokers within a decade, the Ministry of Health Welfare and Sport said. By that time, the ministry said that tobacco products will only be sold in specialized tobacco stores.
Currently, 16,000 locations sell tobacco products. That will fall by 5,600 within two years once cigarette vending machines are banned. After 6,400 supermarkets halt tobacco sales, only 6,000 retailers will sell the products.
“With this decision and the course we have set today, we will prevent a great many unnecessary deaths and medical suffering,” State Secretary Paul Blokhuis said in a statement. Other steps taken to make smoking less attractive was to change the packaging to bland, uniform boxes, instead of letting manufacturers use their own packaging. Supermarkets are also not allowed to display cigarettes and other tobacco products.
The price of cigarettes will also increase to 10 euros in 2023. Earlier this year, a majority in parliament supported a proposal to ban cigarette sales in supermarkets and gas station stores
- Dutch national airline company KLM wants to make trains more attractive as an alternative to short flights. The airline is looking at six destinations with distances of up to 700 kilometers, which can also be reached by train. These are Brussels, Paris, London, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, and Berlin.KLM has drawn up an action plan together with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, Schiphol, and the Dutch rail company, NS. With this plan, the parties hope that travelers will take both trains and airplanes or consider using a train when transferring. The six destinations that are under consideration are already accessible by rail. The NS also made plans to speed up train travel from Amsterdam to Berlin and Brussels.Before the coronavirus pandemic, there were twelve trains a day between Amsterdam and Paris. There is also a direct train connection to London. This makes the train an “attractive alternative to the plane,” writes KLM.
These new plans come amid a broader effort by the NS and its European counterparts to expand train travel across Europe. Earlier this year, NS announced that it is looking to build a direct train connection between Zurich and Amsterdam.
At the start of this year, KLM introduced its so-called AirRail tickets that cover both the flight tickets as well as train connections. Further measures are being taken to implement the action plan.
The initiative is seen as an effort to move to more sustainable travelling. “KLM has been one of the most sustainable airlines in the world for 16 years, according to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, and last year we introduced the Fly Responsibly sustainability initiative,” says Pieter Elbers, a KLM spokesperson. “We see flying as a conscious choice for consumers and the train is a logical, sustainable alternative if you want to travel a short distance.”
With this new initiative, KLM could be eligible for the government’s multi-billion Euro support package. Required conditions include the reduction of CO2 emissions and the number of night flights. According to a KLM spokesperson, this was not why they introduced the plan and that the ideas had been in circulation before the support package was announced.
- If the European Union and United Kingdom part ways with a trade agreement in place, it will be a 4.5 billion euros blow to the Dutch economy. If there is a hard, no-deal Brexit, the Dutch economy will sustain 17.5 billion euros in damage, according to ABN Amro.A soft Brexit, with a trade agreement, will also put 17,770 jobs at risk, compared to the 2019 labor market, ABN Amro expects. With a soft Brexit, the economic damage comes from additional trade barriers. There will be border controls, extra paperwork, and delays at customs as they get used to the new situation.
According to the bank, this could also have repercussions on demand in the coming years, because costs will increase. Exporters of machinery, chemical products and food, among others, will particularly be affected because they do a lot of business with the UK.
A hard Brexit will have even bigger consequences, because in addition to to extra trade barriers, there will also be import tariffs. A no-deal Brexit also puts nearly 70,000 jobs at risk. “Dutch companies in various sectors therefore have a lot to gain from a successful outcome of the Brexit negotiations,” ABN Amro said.