Netherlands Seeks to Reopen Schools, Extends Lockdown Measures

(Bloomberg) --

The Netherlands will reopen primary schools and daycare centers in a first cautious move to ease the lockdown restrictions taken in its battle against the coronavirus, with Prime Minister Mark Rutte stressing that moving too fast now could give way to a second wave.

All other lockdown measures -- dubbed an “intelligent lockdown” by Rutte -- will remain in place for at least another four weeks.

Starting May 11, primary schools will partially reopen, while adolescents up to 18 years old would be allowed to resume group sports under certain conditions, Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters at a televised briefing in The Hague on Tuesday. Other schools and universities should prepare for “1.5 meter schools” starting June 2.

The ban on mass events, including professional football and music festivals, was extended by three months until Sept. 1.

“The freedom of one person can’t come at the expense of another,” Rutte said, who is leading his third coalition cabinet since 2010, adding that “the corona-crisis is probably one of the biggest, most fundamental, most threatening periods in our lifetimes.”

The move is less far-reaching than in various other European countries, and marks a very careful first step in loosening some of the restrictions that have for a large part halted activity across the country. People across the country are encouraged to keep working from home, while bars, restaurants and barber shops, will remain closed until at least May 19.

The Dutch government has taken incremental steps -- including closing schools, restaurants, bars and gyms -- to contain the outbreak after reporting the first patient at the end of February. Late last month, restrictions were extended until April 28, with schools staying shuttered until the end of May holidays, and mass events initially banned until June 1.

As a result of the pandemic, the Dutch economy, home to Europe’s largest port and the region’s third-largest airport, is estimated to shrink 7.5% this year, according to IMF predictions. Measures to aid local businesses affected by the outbreak are expected to cost the Dutch government tens of billions of euros.

The increase of confirmed cases in the country of 17 million has been steadily slowing with new cases earlier on Tuesday coming in at the lowest level since March 23. The RIVM National Institute for Public Health and the Environment reported an additional 729 cases, bringing the total tally to 34,134.

The number of reported fatalities from the outbreak in the country rose 4% to 3,916, the RIVM said, noting that Tuesday’s numbers are traditionally higher to account for the administrative processing of those who passed away over the weekend.

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