Just like its neighboring countries, The Netherlands has also moved to scrap most Covid-19 restrictions, as it is now clear that the virus has become endemic. The omicron variant undoubtedly pushed infection rates to record height, but the hospitalization rate is dropping with each passing day, indicating that the booster shots and milder variants will enable the Dutch to return to normal life with minimal restrictions in place.
Two years after the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, the cabinet has taken the foot off the brakes and is ready to open the country, easing most of the restrictions. From 25 February, all venues and events are fully open and restrictions such as social distancing and wearing face masks are no longer in place, with the dissipation of the Omicron-fueled Covid wave.
In the press conference that announced these changes, Minister of Health Ernst Kuipers warned, however, that Covid-19 is still considered a dangerous infectious disease, but that the current situation is no longer considered serious and the peak of infections and hospitalizations is over. While presenting an optimistic message, he also believes that the country must be realistic. For example, if you are celebrating carnival or going out to cafes, he advised to avoid large groups. He also reinforced the message that “there is no guarantee that there will be no change in restrictions and other measures in the future”, but believes that the Dutch “are more resistant to the virus through vaccinations and immunity that people have built up.”
An overview of the current rules:
- Outdoor events such as football matches and festivals can be carried out without a vaccine or test requirement.
- In the case of busy indoor events with 500 or more guests, a negative Covid test is compulsory – a vaccine certificate is not sufficient.
- Basic rules such as washing your hands regularly, coughing in your elbow, staying home in case of complaints, and ventilation are still in place.
- The 1.5-meter distance rule is no longer in force.
- Face masks no longer have to be worn in public places, except for public transport, at airports, and in airplanes.
- Infected people are required to isolate for 5 days (instead of the previous 7 days). They can leave isolation if they are symptom-free for at least 24 hours.
- The work from home advice has been scrapped, but the government recommends that those who can work from home, do so half of the time.
- The Covid passport is no longer required in public places, such as restaurants, cinemas and theaters.
- The Covid passport is still mandatory in case of international travel, which means that proof of vaccination, proof of recovery, or a negative test is required.
The Netherlands’ booster vaccination program picked up pace after the country saw a sharp surge in Covid cases in December, with over 7 million people boostered within six weeks. The third shot has improved immunity in most people and has brought down the number of hospitalizations, as shown by the steadily declining number of people in hospital. It is the most important step towards getting life back to normal and to improving quality of life.
Health experts have urged people who are at risk, such as those who suffer from immune deficiencies, to continuing to follow Covid-19 guidelines, including wearing face masks in public, maintaining social distancing and avoiding crowded places. Others are urged to be considerate when visiting people in risk groups.
“Learning to live” with Covid-19 means accepting all the disruption, uncertainty and instability that may arise in the future. No one knows what lies ahead, but widespread global vaccination remains the best way to end the crisis.
Written by Parul Sachdeva