The Netherlands finalises list of safe and unsafe countries for travel

The EURACTIV Network provides you with the latest news on how the country is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis. [Shutterstock]

**This article is continuously updated with the latest developments.

The Dutch government has as finalised its list of 16 European countries where it is safe to go on holiday from Monday (15 June).

These countries – which are coded yellow, meaning they are safe to visit but tourists should still take care – include Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Estonia, France, Iceland, Italy, Croatia, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Czech Republic and Switzerland.

The remaining destinations, which include Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Ireland will switch from orange (unsafe) to yellow by the end of the month. These countries currently test travellers from the Netherlands, who will have to isolate for a day until they receive their tests, and another two weeks in case their test turns out positive for COVID-19.

Travel to Sweden, Denmark and the UK, however, is not recommended for the rest of the summer. “This is because of the health situation in these countries,” the ministry said, adding that if one travels there, one is “strongly advised to go into 14-day quarantine” upon return. Denmark only remains on the orange list because the country has not yet confirmed whether Dutch tourists are allowed to enter.

Meanwhile, the Dutch government plans to anchor the rules for social distancing and other COVID-19 related legal issues into law and to ensure these are in force as of 1 July.

At the moment, the regulations currently in force are based on the government’s emergency powers which can be enacted at times of crisis.

However, the new rules would make it an offence not to keep a ‘safe distance’ from others on the street. They also allow officials to ban people from certain places and from organising events and from practising certain professions.

Although this still needs to be approved by both houses of parliament, the proposal has been criticised by lawyers, local authorities and the national ombudsman.

They are not only critical of the lack of legal basis, but also of the new law possibly giving free rein to lawmakers in deciding what hygiene measures are made compulsory. They are also concerned about the lack of democratic control, particularly by local authorities, who have been given little to work with to steer the rules.

As of Monday (15 June), the Netherlands had 48,948 confirmed case of COVID-19, with 165 new cases in the past 24 hours. The country also registered 6,065 deaths.

Dutch research into the impact of two anti-malarial drugs on Covid-19 patients has been halted because researchers are no longer confident that it has a beneficial effect, broadcaster RTL and the AD said on Wednesday (10 June).

“1.5-metre society”

While the country’s COVID-19 measures have brought the virus under control, the Dutch government announced its strategy at a press conference on 19 April to gradually bring back economic activity and public life in a “1.5-metre society” and has already made announcements for two of its phases.

From 11 May, people in the Netherlands were told to continue working from home, observe the 1.5-metre distance rule, and respect all hygiene rules and avoid crowds.

At the press conference, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge and Prime Minister Mark Rutte also announced that certain contact professions such as hairdressers would start working again provided they respect the 1.5-metre rule, while adults will be allowed to practice no-contact outdoor sports, such as tennis and golf.

From 1 June, the second phase of lifting lockdown measures started, for which the PM and health minister already laid out a few measures during a press conference on 19 May.

The PM said that the government envisions gradual progress towards “the new normal”, in which people will have to keep a 1.5-metre distance between each other at all times unless they happen to be of the same household.

Authorities are also advising people to only take public transport for “necessary trips” and will fine them if they do not wear masks, which will be mandatory for public transport.

Hotels, restaurants and cafés were allowed to open at the start of June, as long as they adhere to the 1.5-metre distance rule and do not let more than 30 people inside their catering facilities at the same time. On terraces, social distancing will have to be respected, although the number of people won’t be limited.

Also, theatres, cinemas, concert halls and museums were allowed to open their doors on 1 June at noon, albeit on a reservation-only basis.

On 2 June, high-schools with children between 12-18 years were allowed to reopen, while primary schools opened “entirely” on 8 June after having partially opened its doors on 11 May to reduce the number of people in a classroom.

Previously, the PM had told a press conference on 21 April that children “play a smaller role” in spreading the virus based on the national advisory body‘s studies and examples from Scandinavia. At the time, he also said that both the closure of schools and children’s sports clubs were the only measures that could be “responsibly” lifted in May. 

Universities and vocational training institutions will be allowed to open their doors for limited purposes from 15 June, including for exams or practical teaching.  

Netherlands denies blocking Sassoli from coronavirus talks

The Netherlands has never said that European Parliament President David Sassoli should be excluded from talks on the EU’s response to the coronavirus crisis, a Dutch spokesperson told following a report in Spanish newspaper El Pais.

‘Intelligent’ lockdown and move back to ‘new normal’

The Dutch government first called for additional coronavirus measures on 15 March to last until 6 April. On 31 March, Dutch PM Mark Rutte then announced the extension of the ‘intelligent lockdown until 28 April in a televised address, adding that no “extra measures” were needed.

The Dutch government banned all organised gatherings with more than three people until 1 June and gave emergency powers to mayors to ensure social-distancing of 1.5 metres between people is kept, Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhouse told a press conference on 23 March.

The PM also confirmed the Dutch approach as being “maximum control of the virus” and no “extra measures” to ensure a controlled spread among the groups least at risk and that hospitals and intensive care units always have space for those who need it most.

Shops were also asked to ensure customers are notified about keeping their distances at the entrance, as these shops would otherwise be fined up to €4,000. 

“If someone in your family is ill, everyone should stay home. In other situations, if you want to get a bit of fresh air, you can, but go alone,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a press conference on 16 March, adding that most residents would likely get the virus.

At a press conference on 15 April, while announcing the extension of COVID-19 measures as of 21 April, Prime Minister Mark Rutte reiterated that people will have to get used to a “new normal in a 1.5-metre society.”

However, already towards the end of April and despite criticism, including from Leiden University virologist Ann Vossen, furniture giant Ikea and the country’s second-largest department store, de Bijenkorf, opened their doors to the public, allowing a limited number of customers but ensuring their catering and make-up departments remained closed.

On top of that, Dutch railway company NS had already been running more of its trains to ensure customers respect social distancing but urged people to take rides that are absolutely necessary to ensure care workers and other people working essential jobs have enough space.

Besides, the Netherlands saw a growing number of reports in April stating that more than 20 mobile phone masts had been set on fire or sabotaged, which is thought to be linked with circulating conspiracy theories that make a connection between 5G and the coronavirus.

The national coordinator for security and counterterrorism spoke of a “worrisome development”, especially because the outage of masts “can have consequences for the coverage of the telephone network and thus the accessibility of emergency services”.

For more about what went down during the ‘intelligent lockdown’, check here:

Dutch spell out green ideas for EU recovery fund

The Netherlands has floated proposals to ensure a green recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, suggesting an “exclusion list” of economic activities like nuclear power, which the Dutch believe should be banned from receiving EU funds.

Weathering the ‘coronavirus storm’ with economic measures

On 16 April, the Dutch government launched guarantees for business financing totalling €10 billion and was approved by the European Commission on 22 April. Bank loan guarantees worth between 1.5 million and 150 million for large business (max. 50-80% of the loan) and SMEs (max. 90% of the loan) were being distributed as from 29 April.

For start-ups and scale-ups hit by the crisis, InvestNL has made €100 million in bridge financing available, after the Commission gave its green light.

The Dutch had already decided to expand the number of professions eligible for support meant to help businesses weather the ‘coronavirus storm’ by including taxi drivers, dentists and tattoo artists in its list of self-employed professionals, the union trade federation FNV said on 7 April that 800,000 people – including 425,000 on call out or zero-hour contracts, 227,000 in the first six months of their staffing agency job – are at risk.

Companies have been benefitting from the government’s NOW scheme launched on 6 April, which helps firms whose turnover has slumped to zero can claim 90% of their wage bill from the state, while a 20% drop entitles the company to 10% support.

As of 15 April, the Dutch unemployment agency (UWV) had already paid the first instalment of €1.3 billion to 66,000 companies as part of the scheme, meaning 2.3 million workers benefitted.

You can read more about the country’s economic measures, here:

Mask fraud, apps and ventilators

“The pressure on the healthcare system continues to be gigantic, and regular health care should be restarted as soon as possible,” Rutte told a press conference on 22 April, adding that “one person’s freedom cannot be at the expense of someone else’s health.

To relieve pressure from the health sector, the Dutch not only developed its own voluntary COVID-19 app but also commissioned its own companies with manufacturing ventilators.

OVLG hospital in Amsterdam launched a COVID-19 app called ‘De Corona Check’  which was made available to everyone in the Netherlands on 21 April, despite calls from experts saying it posed privacy concerns.

The app, which is based on the Luscii app which has been providing chronic disease advice, allows users to upload their symptoms, following which a team of doctors and nurses from seven control centres determine whether it is necessary to refer the user to a hospital or suggest he or she gets in touch with a GP.

The government has also looked into ways to increase the number of ventilators across hospitals and has commissioned Dutch companies Philipps and Demcon to manufacture 1,500 ventilators. The country’s economy ministry has also been working on setting up a consortium of different companies to boost supply.

Still, the country continued to have an issue with face masks throughout the crisis.

For instance, while Health Minister Martijn van Rijns said on 28 April that, at the time, the country did “not yet have the luxury” of allowing facemasks to be used beyond the healthcare sector, the government decided that from 1 June, people aged 13 and over will be obliged to wear facemasks when using public transport.

Two months into the ‘intelligent lockdown, it was found that at least 30% of facemasks failed to pass an efficacy test, according to Delft-based technical services firm Kalibra. Catharina Hospital in Eindhoven found that 80% of masks on the market do not offer the level of protection which their packaging claims, while another testing organisation has demonstrated that mask shipments are extremely inconsistent, NL Times reports.

To follow how the Dutch addressed the issue of ‘coronabonds’ and how the Dutch health minister got called out by the Portuguese Prime Minister for his ‘repugnant’ comments calling for an investigation into Spain’s proclaimed lack of budgetary capacity to cope with the pandemic and how he backtracked on his comments, click the following:

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