Mark RuttePhoto: Corepics/DepositPhotos
The Dutch cabinet introduced three new regulations to fight the spread of coronavirus in the country, after a sunny weekend brought thousands of people to popular outdoor areas, defying the ban on groups of people gathered in one place and the advice that people keep at least a 1.5-meter distance from each other. The new rules include fines when members of the public disregard the regulations, and an order that no more than two people stand together within their 150-centimeter personal space.
"These will be hefty fines by Dutch standards," said Security and Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus.
When asked to clarify, Grapperhaus said the fines could equal 400 euros per person, and for businesses that violate the ban the penalty could equal four thousand euros and possible closure. Mayors in the Netherlands will also get more power to enforce the new rules, and police could be used to enforce the law at the discretion of the authorities involved.
"This is not a total lockdown," Prime Minister Mark Rutte said at a press conference on Monday evening.
People need to remain in their homes as much as possible, he said.
"Stay at home, but if you want to get some fresh air or go to the supermarket, go alone."
"Persons in the same household, such as families, and children are excluded," from the two-person maximum rule, the government said in a statement.
However, people who are sick must stay home, as well as those in their household.
"Be a little smart about it, and don't rely on the government to determine how to create the 1.5 meter separation," Rutte said.
The existing ban on gatherings, meetings, and events of a hundred people or more will remain in place until June 1, a lengthy extension beyond the original April 6 end date. The ban, which previously applied only to events and meetings of over 100 people, also now covers smaller groups. An amount of people was not specified, but the requirement repeated time and again was the 1.5 meters of distance separation.
But, Minister Grapperhaus said, for now, families should not even gather for birthday parties if they cannot maintain that much space from one another. Public transportation will not be exempted from this space requirement. Neither will street markets, which will remain open where they are an important part of the food supply chain. There could be some exemptions introduced after April 6, including for funerals and weddings, but more information will be provided by the government at a later date.
Additionally, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said at the news conference that the country's residents must remain at home if a single person in their household has a fever. Without a fever, only the person exhibiting symptoms of a cold, cough, or flu, including shortness of breath, must stay home. The measure is meant to protect those with the most vulnerable health in society, including the elderly.
The message last week to keep your distance and observe hygiene rules was observed by many people, Rutte stated. He said unfortunately, not everyone adhered to the advice, saying he was stunned by crowds which formed over the weekend in some areas. "That is antisocial. It has to stop," he said.
More businesses were also ordered closed, including the immediate closure of barber shops, hairdressers, beauticians, and other care professions where contact is made. Casinos are also required to close from March 24, and holiday parks must close if they cannot keep people 1.5 meters from each other.
The press conference started 15 minutes after the association of intensive care workers in the Netherlands reported an increase in intensive care patients of over 20 percent, with 487 coronavirus patients in the country now occupying an ICU space. Making sure there are intensive care beds available is the top priority for interim Medical Care Minister Martin van Rijn.
To accomplish this, he said that the Dutch have ordered more ventilators to try and make sure that the number of critical patients does not exceed the availability of ICU beds.
The first Covid-19 diagnosis in the Netherlands was made on February 27th. From there the virus spread rapidly, first topping 1 thousand cases on Sunday March 15, and then quadrupling to 4,204 by Sunday March 22. On Monday that tally stood at 4,749, of which 213 people have died.
The health authorities quarantined Covid-19 patients and isolated people they had contact with from the first infection. Measures were first taken in Noord-Brabant, the first Dutch province to be heavily affected by the coronavirus. The RIVM advised Noord-Brabant residents to stay at home if they show even mild cold-like symptoms, the province called on residents to work from home as much as possible, and the mayors of Tilburg, Eindhoven and Den Bosch called for large events to be canceled and for people to refrain from social contacts for a week.
The first nationwide measures were taken on Thursday March 12, when Prime Minister Mark Rutte extended the measures taken in Noord-Brabant to the entire country. Everyone in the Netherlands were instructed to self-isolate if they show any symptoms of illness and to work from home if at all possible. The government also banned events with more than 100 people and called on higher education institutions to start teaching online.
Three days later, the measures were escalated. The government ordered all schools and daycare facilities closed. Additionally, restaurants, cafes, sports clubs, fitness centers, coffeeshops, sex clubs and saunas were also instructed to remain closed. Though the government later gave restaurants and coffeeshops permission to stay open for takeaways and deliveries.
Over the past week, as infection and death figures continued to rise, the speculation became about when, not if, the government will implement a complete lockdown. Even RIVM director Jaap van Dissel said a lockdown was possible, and it fully depended on how people in the country behaved. He has been resistant to the idea of a lockdown speculating that it could lead to an increase in coronavirus cases in the future as opposed to the cases being spread out more evenly over time.
The day after Van Dissel said that this, the government had to issue an NL Alert because crowds were gathering on beaches and in parks.