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Gommers warns of ‘riskiest scenario’ for relaxing coronavirus rules

Bars will be able to reopen again, but customers will need a corona pass. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Intensive care specialist Diederik Gommers has said the Dutch government opted for the ‘riskiest scenario’ in loosening coronavirus restrictions at the end of September.

Gommers, chair of the intensive care association NVIC, told news agency ANP that the Outbreak Management Team set out three options for the next stage of the pandemic response on September 25: keep the current rules, remove social distancing but keep limits on events such as festivals, or open up society with minimal restrictions.

The cabinet went with the last option, allowing nightclubs to reopen until midnight, removing the limits on crowd numbers at outdoor events and no longer enforcing the 1.5 metre distance rule that has applied since March 2020.

‘Rutte says he’s aiming to make sure the healthcare sector stays manageable, but he’s chosen the scenario with the most risks,’ Gommers said. ‘That’s a contradiction in terms.’

Though positive test numbers have declined since the start of September, there are still around 650 people in hospital with coronavirus and 200 in intensive care, more than three times as many as a year ago at the start of the second wave.

Hospitality bosses critical

There was criticism of a different kind from hospitality and nightlife owners, who were angry at the compulsory corona pass being brought in to replace social distancing.

Customers at bars, cafes, sports matches, outdoor events and any other type of large public gathering will have to produce a QR code on entry showing they have been vaccinated, recently tested or infected in the last six months.

‘We want nightlife to be brought in line with the rest of the eased restrictions,’ said Robèr Willemsen, chair of catering industry body KHN. ‘The nightlife sector is the only part of the economy that is still shut.’

Some cafes and restaurants have already indicated they will refuse to co-operate with the corona pass system. The owners of the cafés on Grote Markt square in The Hague said ‘everyone is welcome’ after September 25.

‘It’s not right that the catering and culture sector are being used to give people who haven’t had a jab a shove in the direction of being vaccinated,’ they said in a statement quoted in AD.nl.

Hubert Bruls, chair of the council of the 25 safety board regions in the Netherlands, said local authorities would not be carrying out spot checks on restaurants and bars, but would focus on ‘excesses’.

‘We’re certainly not to check every visitor to every café in person,’ Bruls told Nieuwsuur. ‘We’ve never done that. We don’t have enough people for that and it’s not going to happen now.’

He said checks on ‘excesses’ would include premises where owners have stated they will not take part in the system. ‘That’s very simple: you’ll get a fine from a policeman or a warden (boa), or your business will be closed.’

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