Cabinet organizes its own disappointment – NRC

It is becoming a tradition in The Hague: corona press conferences in which the country must be disappointed. On Tuesday evening, the cabinet held another: the previously announced relaxation, including the reopening of the terraces, cannot continue due to poor corona figures. “Incredibly disappointing,” said outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD), but the still high number of admissions makes the situation in hospitals “dire” according to him. “We cannot just erase those figures.”

It begs the question of why the cabinet has been considering easing all the time in recent weeks while the figures were already on the rise. The grumpiness about the corona approach, including the faltering vaccination campaign, is growing by the day. For days, GPs and hospitals have been criticizing the uncertainty and delay caused by the vaccination stops with AstraZeneca. On Tuesday, another setback was added: Janssen temporarily halted vaccine deliveries to the EU due to the occurrence of a rare side effect in the US.

Problems in enforcement

In public administration, people no longer agree. The mayors of the big cities no longer believe in the government’s strategy; they foresee problems in enforcement if terraces remain closed for much longer. While there was still strong support among citizens for a strict lockdown in December, almost two-thirds of the Dutch now want to relax more quickly, research by I&O Research has shown. Support for and compliance with most basic rules and measures such as curfews are further declining, RIVM reported on Tuesday.

A great source of frustration are the promises that the cabinet is always unable to keep: the ‘perspective’ for the population turns into disappointment time and time again. Catering entrepreneurs, whose businesses have already been forced to close completely for six months, were told on Tuesday for the second time in four weeks that their terraces could not be opened after all. Koninklijke Horeca Nederland spoke of “a new blow in the face”.

It did not stop the cabinet from making another ambitious one on Tuesday ‘opening plan’ to present. For example, next week, the cabinet wants to see whether the terraces can be opened by 28 April and whether the curfew can be withdrawn. Rutte made it clear that these eases are possible once the peak of the third wave has been reached and hospital admissions drop for a number of days in a row. There are now almost 800 Covid patients in the ICUs, and a further 1,700 in the nursing wards. The question is how realistic it is that these numbers will fall seriously within a week – then the decision must be made. Rutte said that he can again “give no guarantee”. The date of April 28 is “not hard”.

In short, the dates and all subsequent steps in the opening plan – the next one after which is the reopening of outdoor locations such as amusement parks on 11 May – are still completely uncertain. Why then mention that data? According to Rutte, these data include the predictions of the RIVM and expected deliveries of vaccines. He called this ‘fair sharing of the facts with the Netherlands’. But Janssen’s suspended deliveries show how quickly this plan, after the earlier ‘roadmap’, may be put back in the trash.

Vaccinating even faster can actually highlight steps from the opening plan. The question is whether the Netherlands will be able to do this in the coming weeks. Outgoing minister Hugo de Jonge (Public Health, CDA) jubilated at the press conference that the Netherlands has now taken almost 4 million first injections and that a record number of appointments were scheduled at the GGD last weekend. He didn’t talk about the ramifications of his decision to drop AstraZeneca under the age of 60, which means that certain medical risk groups now have to wait a few weeks longer for their first shot. GPs also report that people over 60 are now also reluctant to take this vaccine.

The unrest around AstraZeneca is a major uncertainty in the readiness to vaccinate in the coming weeks. More than four in ten Dutch want no injection with AstraZeneca anymore, according to I&O. In addition, the situation around Janssen is also uncertain as to whether the first delivery that the Netherlands received on Monday may be pricked away from Thursday. The doom scenario is that the vaccine is also found to be unsuitable for people under the age of 60, De Jonge admitted. “If Janssen goes on the same tour as AstraZeneca, we have a problem together.”
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