September 20, 2021

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Corona numbers present the Cabinet with a difficult choice on Friday: Can education and night-time dining open again?

Corona numbers present the Cabinet with a difficult choice on Friday: Can education and night-time dining open again?

Teacher teaches online. After a year and a half of primarily digital teaching, high schools and higher education are eager for full lessons again.Statue of Marcel van den Berg / de Volkskrant

On Friday evening at 7 pm, Prime Minister Rutte and Health Minister Hugo de Jonge will organize another press conference on Corona. This comes after the first cabinet of the new parliamentary year. Corona experts in the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) will issue policy advice on Wednesday based on the latest developments in the pandemic in the Netherlands.

In principle, these developments are favorable. It is now certain that the latest wave of Corona, which heralded the sharp easing of politics on June 26, has passed its peak. Since the beginning of August, the number of hospitalizations has decreased. The number of infections (positive tests) showed a clear downward trend since July 20. And that trend has continued in the past week, RIVM reported on Tuesday afternoon.

Therefore, at first glance, it appears that there is room for policy facilitation. The Cabinet is under great pressure to loosen the reins, because next week the new school year begins. After a year and a half of primarily digital teaching, high schools and higher education are eager to start teaching physics again. They warn that students and schoolchildren would otherwise face very significant educational disadvantages. The social development of teens and young adults in their twenties will also be affected by not contacting each other.

Event organizations and night catering establishments are gradually reaching the end of their rope. At the end of June, they were pleased with a dead sparrow. Encouraged by the smoothly running vaccination campaign and the rapid decrease in the number of infections, the Cabinet released him. For the first time in a year and a half, night and festive life were allowed to erupt again. A little over two weeks later, the party was over (literally): the number of infections rose at an unprecedented rate, after which the government reversed much of the relaxed state.

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De Jonge and Rutte had to go deeper in mid-July and apologize to the Dutch people for their irresponsible optimism – at a later date. They will not want to make that mistake again. That’s why they’d rather be careful this time, under the motto “better safe than sorry (again)”.

The situation is now significantly different from what it was on June 18, when the Cabinet announced the end of the lockdown. It is unfavorable that the number of infections (14.8 per 100 thousand people) is much higher than it was at that time (5.9 per 100 thousand). The number of hospitalizations at that time was also much lower than it is now (an average of 39 per day compared to 83 per day last week).

Alarmingly, the decline in the number of infections is stabilizing. In the past seven days, the number of positive tests decreased by 14.1 percent, compared to 43.8 percent in the previous week. The proportion of people who tested positive increased slightly from 12.3 to 12.9 percent in the past week. The number of Corona patients in intensive care is also increasing, but this number always lags behind the development of the number of infections.

The important positive difference from mid-June is that more Dutch people are now fully vaccinated. The main reason for the outbreak of the new disease after June 26 was that unvaccinated young people visited events and catering establishments en masse and did not stay within one and a half meters. Most of these youngsters will be vaccinated before 1 September. 65 percent of people ages 18 to 30 received their first vaccination, reports the National Institute of Public Health. One-third to one-half of this age group also received a second vaccination.

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Remarkably, however, the vaccination rate in the 40 to 60 age group has barely increased in the past week. The proportion of fully vaccinated people in their 50s is still less than 80 percent. Many people may have postponed the second vaccination until after their leave, but the stagnation could also mean that in practice the willingness to vaccinate is lower than the Treasury and RIVM think.