An immediate ban on all unnecessary travel between its three largest cities – Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam – is the centrepiece of a new programme of Covid-19 restrictions announced by the Dutch government in a belated attempt to offset a second wave of the virus.
Prime minister Mark Rutte admitted that until the weekend the plan had been to combat the “flare-up” with a series of regional lockdowns – but by Monday the relentless pace of the resurgence had left the government with no option but tough nationwide measures.
“This is a bitter pill but we’ll have to share the pain,” Mr Rutte said during a televised address on Monday evening alongside health minister Hugo de Jonge, adding that he would be discussing the “economic consequences” with employers and unions this week.
The decision was based on figures from the public health institute, RIVM, which showed that while on Monday there were 2,914 news cases reported, just shy of the daily record of 2,995 – that was expected to rise to an alarming 5,000 new cases a day by next week.
After a summer of worsening statistics, Mr de Jonge admitted that, in effect, the country was playing catch-up – with the numbers infected doubling every eight days and the daily death toll rising again.
Although the impact of the second wave was less than a week away, he said, it would be at best “10 days to two weeks” before the effects of the latest measures began to be felt. If they didn’t work, he conceded, the Netherlands would have to consider a second lockdown.
In the meantime, 617 Covid-19 patients are being treated in hospitals, of whom 127 are in intensive care – though the ICU figure is also expected to rise to 400 or more by mid-October, the minister revealed.
As well as the travel ban between the main cities, cafes and restaurants must close their doors at 9pm and be empty an hour later.
Sports fixtures will again be closed to fans, public gatherings will be limited to 40 people, while gatherings in homes will be limited to three visitors. Non-essential hospital procedures will be delayed again from next weekend to make way for coronavirus patients.
However, there has been more controversy over the government’s persistent unwillingness to say that masks should be worn in public at all times.
The new rules recommend they be worn in shops in Amsterdam, The Hague, and Rotterdam, as well as on public transport, where they’re already obligatory.
On Tuesday, however, the mayors of the three cities responded in unison, calling for masks to be worn “in all public places” in their jurisdictions. “We want this to be taken as read,” said Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema.