Students cheer on a terrace of a cafe in Amsterdam on June 25, 2021 as the Netherlands eased Covid-19 restrictions.
PAUL BERGEN | AFP | Getty Images
Breaking rules in cafes and bars in the Netherlands is an ongoing problem the hospitality industry has to grapple with, the country’s prime minister said as the nation grapples with a surge in Covid-19 infections.
On Monday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte pleaded with the industry to get customers to abide by social distancing rules and sit in their assigned seats, adding that it was critical given the high number of infections.
“With regard to the hospitality industry, we would like to point out that things are going well in many places, but not in too many places and it is extremely important,” said Rutte at a short press conference on Monday afternoon.
Rutte said police cannot monitor tens of thousands of bars, cafes and restaurants in the Netherlands to make sure they are complying with social distancing and customer seating rules. “So we really have to do this together,” he said. “We don’t want to take any additional measures with the current infection figures,” he added.
Not enough social distancing
Rutte’s comments come as the Netherlands scrambles to curb an increase in Covid infections, mainly among younger people. Amid optimism about their vaccination program, the Dutch government announced in late June that most restrictions, with the exception of the 1.5 meter social distancing rule, would be lifted and nightclubs would be allowed to reopen.
Cases soon skyrocketed, however, increasing eight-fold in just one week to around 10,000 cases on July 10, prompting the government to turn around and apologize to Rutte for lifting restrictions too early.
The government conceded that “coronavirus infection rate in the Netherlands has increased much faster than expected since the society was almost completely reopened on June 26”.
“Most of the infections have occurred in nightclubs and parties with many people,” it said when nightclubs had to close on July 10th.
While bars, restaurants and cafes are allowed to stay open and are 100% occupied, strict rules apply.
People must be assigned seating and be kept 1.5 meters apart when seated indoors, unless hygiene screens are placed between the tables. No social distancing is required for field work. Entertainment, including live performances and television screens, is not permitted and loud music may not be played as stated in government regulations. The venues must close at midnight.
Coen Berends, a spokesman for the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, told CNBC on Tuesday that it was “impossible to calculate the impact of this“ rule break ”in bars, cafes and restaurants.
“In general, we model the effects of the rules applied, and we can also model the effects of the absence of rules. These models predict the effects of an entire package of measures, but cannot distinguish between different rules or non-compliance.In general, our Management Outbreak Team recommends the rules on social distancing and sitting in assigned seats in bars and restaurants in order to prevent the spread of the virus to reduce. Therefore, disregarding these rules can definitely have repercussions. Especially with the now dominant Delta variant of the virus, ”he said.
“However, we don’t know the extent of this effect. It will certainly not have the massive effect that the opening of clubs and the organization of large events had a few weeks ago. We are now seeing the numbers of positive tests stabilize. Our government’s recent actions appear to be working. We still have to see how this works out [the] Hospital stays, “remarked Berends.
Infections are in full swing
The Netherlands is certainly still in a difficult position with Covid infections, is just below Great Britain with the high infection rate in Europe, but further behind when it comes to vaccinations. In the UK, 68.5% of adults are fully vaccinated and in the Netherlands it is just over 50%, according to the latest available data.
On Monday, Jaap van Dissel, chairman of the government’s outbreak management team and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Control, warned that the number of reports of Covid-positive people had increased over the past seven calendar days (measured from July 9th to 15th) is up 298% compared to the past seven days.
“Since the easing of measures on June 26, the number of infections among 18 to 29-year-olds has risen sharply,” said van Dissel in an open letter to the country’s director-general for public health. He said it was too early to say what impact tightening measures would have.
On Monday, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge expressed the hope that the cases will stabilize and decline. Alongside Rutte, de Jonge said on Monday that “in the last week … the number of positive test results has stabilized and that means that growth will not continue. I think that’s positive.”
“At the same time we have to say: The number of positive test results at this level of around 10,000 per day in the past week is of course too high and that must of course be reduced.”
He said the country must work hard to reduce the number of infections, reiterating Rutte’s call for the 1.5 meter social distancing rule to be adhered to “in the hospitality industry, on the street and even at home when we are Receive guests. … really need these 1.5 meters for the time being to ensure that we keep this epidemic under control. “