THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The Netherlands on Tuesday extended by three months a ban on major public events, including professional sports and music festivals, until Sept. 1 to prevent a resurgence of coronavirus infections, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.
At the same time, Rutte said an “encouraging” slowdown in the spread of the virus would enable elementary schools and daycare centres to partly reopen on May 11.
Rutte said limitations on the easing of restrictive measures were necessary to prevent a new wave of COVID-19 cases. “It’s better to be cautious now than to have regrets later,” he told a televised press conference.
“I would love to say we could go a lot further. But that is very scary and dangerous. We see a little improvement in the data, but just imagine that we would relax some measures, causing the virus to peak again. That’s something we all absolutely don’t want.”
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Netherlands rose in the past 24 hours by 729 to 34,134, health authorities said on Tuesday, with 165 new deaths from the lung disease.
Total deaths stand at 3,916, the Netherlands Institute for Health (RIVM) said in its daily update.
Rutte said the government had decided to ease measures very slowly in the face of “one of the largest and most threatening periods any of us will ever go through.”
Daycare centres and elementary schools will be allowed to reopen gradually at half occupancy and with social distancing measures in place, Rutte said.
Restaurants and bars were ordered to remain closed for another three weeks until May 19. Shops have not been closed but must adhere to safety measures which mainly include allowing everybody to keep at least 1.5 meters’ distance from each other.
Everybody except for workers in vital professions like doctors and nurses and also lorry drivers, supermarket personnel and cleaners are requested to work from home, if possible.
Rutte appealed to the Dutch nation to “keep it up and stay at home as much as possible.”
Countries around the world are considering or taking steps to ease lockdowns, though the World Health Organization is warning this should be done slowly and only when there is capacity to isolate cases and trace contacts.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Bart Meijer; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Mark Heinrich)