Lockdown in the Netherlands to buy time ahead of Omicron surge

The Netherlands is going back into lockdown from Sunday morning 19 December 2021 in an effort to buy time to head off the impact of the Omicron version of coronavirus.

The lockdown, involves the closure of schools and higher education, all non-essential shops, gyms, schools and cultural institutions, will come into effect from 5am on Sunday morning 19 December 2021.

During th epress conference on Saturday evening outgoing minister Hugo de Jonge said thta the aim is to win time to give as many people as possible time to get a booster injection and to find out how sick people can become with the Omicron variant so hospitals can prepare.

Prime minister Mark Rutte said the new lockdown is unavoidable given the wave of infections which will hit the Netherlands in the coming weeks. ‘We have to take measures now as a precaution,’ he said. ‘We have to keep ahead of the wave that is coming our way’.

The new rules include an ‘urgent recommendation’ that households welcome no more than two guests over the age of 13 within a 24 hour period, apart from on the three days of the Christmas holiday and on New Year’s day.

Schools, colleges and universities, and after school clubs, will all close immediately, and should be prepard  for remote learning in the first week after the Christmas holidays officially end.

All indoor sports will also stop. Outdoor sports can continue up to 5pm. Professional sports matches will continue, without spectators.

Jaap van Dissel, chairman of the government’s Outbreak Management Team, said he expected the Omicron variant to spread quickly in the Netherlands and to account for the majority of infections between Christmas and New Year. Omicron, he said, is more resistant to the immunity which previous infections and vaccinations provide than the previous variants. It is too different from the variant of coronavirus the vaccine was developed for, he said. ‘I hope everyone will make use of the booster,’ he recommended, ‘As a country we are best protected if as many people as possible get a booster vaccination.’

The surge of the Omicron variant

It has become clear in the past week that the Omicron variant is spreading very rapidly in the Netherlands too. The Outbreak Management Team (OMT) expects that this variant will be the dominant variant in the Netherlands by the end of December. This is sooner than previously expected. This rapid increase in infections means the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals and ICUs will rise further before the end of the year. It is therefore looking increasingly likely that the healthcare system will become overburdened in January. We all want hospital and GP care to be available when we need it. The spread of the Omicron variant must be slowed as soon as possible in order to ensure healthcare services remain available to all. This is why the government has decided that the Netherlands will go into lockdown from Sunday 19 December until at least Friday 14 January 2022.

The Omicron variant is relatively new and many factors are therefore uncertain. Despite these uncertainties, the modelling experts at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) were able to calculate how fast the virus can spread in different circumstances. For more details on this, see the RIVM news item (in Dutch). These calculations show that the measures already in place are not sufficient to ensure the pressure on hospitals and care homes remains manageable.

Measures and urgent advice applicable from Sunday 19 December 2021

  • Everyone should stay at home as much as possible and avoid busy places.
  • Always stay 1.5 metres apart.
  • Receive no more than 2 visitors aged 13 and over per day. On 24, 25 and 26 December and on 31 December and 1 January the maximum number of visitors aged 13 and over is 4 per day.
  • Visit no more than 1 household a day.
  • The maximum group size outdoors for people aged 13 and over is 2 people. There can be more than 2 people in a group if everyone in the group lives at the same address.
  • Educational institutions and out-of-school care (BSO) are closed until at least 9 January 2022. There are some exceptions. On 3 January the government will decide in what form education will resume from 10 January.
  • All hospitality venues are closed, except for delivery and takeaway.
  • All non-essential shops are closed, except for click and collect and returns.
  • Essential shops, such as supermarkets and chemists, can open until 20.00. Face masks must be worn. The maximum number of shoppers is one per 5 square metres.
  • Certain locations, such as petrol stations, pharmacies, libraries, driving schools, notaries’ offices and lawyers’ offices can open for their normal hours.
  • All locations where non-medical contact-based professions are carried out, such as hairdressers and beauty salons, are closed.
  • Cinemas, museums, theatres and concert venues are closed.
  • All indoor sports facilities are closed, except for swimming lessons. Outdoor sports facilities can open for all ages between 05.00 and 17.00. People aged 18 and over can engage in sports outdoors, alone or in groups of 2. They must stay 1.5 metres apart. Children and teenagers aged 17 and under can play sports outdoors and can take part in matches and competitions within their own club.
  • Events are not permitted, except for funerals (no more than 100 people), weekly markets selling groceries, and professional sports matches and competitions (no spectators).

Check the overview of basic rules, measures, conditions and exceptions.

The new measures are in addition to the measures and advice that already apply to everyone in the Netherlands, such as following the basic rules to combat the spread of coronavirus, wearing a face mask where required, doing a self-test before visiting others and working from home. People aged 70 and over are still advised to limit their contacts as much as possible, including with children under 12. If they do have interactions with children, they should take care to keep a 1.5-metre distance.

Business owners, companies and workers can make use of the financial support package that has recently been extended.

Education

From Monday 20 December until Sunday 9 January, secondary schools, secondary schools for special education, secondary vocational education (MBO) and higher education (HBO and universities) will be closed. This measure had already been announced for primary schools, where the existing arrangements continue to apply. Exceptions exist for practical training, exams, and vulnerable pupils and students. In principle, educational institutions will reopen after the Christmas break. The government will take a decision on this on 3 January at the latest. Out-of-school care (BSO) centres will also be closed until Sunday 9 January. Emergency childcare will be provided for the children of key workers and for vulnerable children. Daycare for children aged under 4 will remain open.

Booster vaccinations

To increase protection against the Omicron variant, everyone aged 18 and over will be invited to receive a booster vaccination as soon as possible. Getting a booster offers the best protection against this variant. The aim is to ensure that as many people aged 60 and over as possible receive their booster before the end of the year. Where capacity allows, people aged 60 and over who already have a booster appointment for January will be invited to move their appointment forward. They will receive an SMS text message with more information next week. These people are requested not contact the municipal health service (GGD) themselves. Around 7 January, everyone aged 18 and over will be invited to make an appointment online to receive their booster vaccination. In the second half of January, everyone aged 18 and older who was vaccinated or had coronavirus more than three months ago should have had the opportunity to receive a booster vaccination.

Make your appointment online if you can. This will help the GGD run its booster campaign as quickly and efficiently as possible. If you are unsure how to make an appointment online, ask someone to help you. Staff at your local library can also help you make an appointment online.

Healthcare

The Omicron variant is known to spread rapidly, which may put the healthcare sector under significant pressure. This pressure would be felt not only by hospitals, but also by homecare services, mental health services (GGZ), GPs and the care sector for the elderly and disabled. Plans are currently being drawn up covering a range of scenarios to ensure healthcare provision can continue in as optimal a way as possible. The aim is to ensure that, even under the most difficult circumstances, everyone who requires urgent care has access to it.

Travel

Outgoing Health minister Hugo de Jonge said that at the moment, people can continue to go on holiday, keeping to the rules of the country where you are going, including those of the Netherlands. Travellers may have to deal with extra rules in that country or when they come back to the Netherlands, like compulsory quarantine for everyone returning to the Netherlands from a non-EU country who has not been fully vaccinated. These issues will be discussed on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.

The measures will run until 14 January 2022 at least, but will be reviewed before that date.

[Source: The government of the Netherlands]

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This is an ongoing situation and it is advisable to check the websites of the relevant authorities to obtain the most up-to-date information.

To keep updated with advice from the government and the RIVM, head to:

http://government.nl/coronavirus

https://www.rivm.nl/en/novel-coronavirus-covid-19

 

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