Television address by Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands
Prime Minister Rutte addresses the country on new lockdown measures in the Netherlands.
When I gave the first televised address about coronavirus almost nine months ago I truly hoped it would also be the last.
And for a long time that appeared to be the case.
Unfortunately, however, today I have to speak to you in this setting once again.
And once again, I have a difficult message.
At the press conference less than a week ago I said that we were at a crossroads.
I said that stricter measures would be considered if the infection figures rose any higher.
And sadly that’s what we have seen happening, at rapid speed, since then.
Coronavirus is now spreading even faster than we had foreseen last week.
And for that reason the Netherlands will go into lockdown for a period of at least five weeks.
The Netherlands is shutting down.
This means that we are closing all locations where people come together in groups, with just a few exceptions that will ensure that our society can continue functioning and that vulnerable people can be protected.
All the measures are aimed at minimising interaction between people.
Because if people don’t come into contact with each other, the virus can’t be transmitted.
We all remember the news footage back in the spring.
Empty motorways, empty trains and buses, empty offices and classrooms, empty shopping streets.
That is the situation we have to return to.
Today I want to explain why this is necessary.
And I want to take you through the new measures one by one.
But first I need to speak from the heart.
The government is only too aware how serious and drastic today’s decision is.
Especially so close to Christmas.
For many people, 2020 has been a year of grief, loss and sorrow.
Because they have lost a loved one to COVID-19.
Because they have fallen ill themselves, and have yet to fully recover.
Because they have lost their job or their business, for example in the hospitality sector.
We’ve seen young people forced to put their future plans on hold.
We’ve seen elderly people fearful of getting ill.
And we’ve seen stress and loneliness increasingly ravage our society, across the generations.
We all feel it: this year, the desire to gather together around the Christmas tree, to enjoy normal, real human interaction, is greater than ever.
And with that in mind, I want to ask you all – within the confines of the restrictions – to look out for those who are struggling.
For those who are unhappy.
Those who are alone.
Looking out for each other will help us all get through this difficult period.
And I know that we will get through it.
Not only because of the vaccine that’s on the way, but also – and above all – because of the resilience we have shown together.
Of course, we’re all human, and we’re not perfect.
And we all find it hard to observe the rules all the time and everywhere.
It’s a common topic of debate among people, on the internet, and in the media – and I understand that.
But what I also see is that the overwhelming majority of Dutch people realise that we need to protect ourselves and others by modifying our behaviour.
Everywhere I look, I see people trying to make the best of this situation.
I see people keeping their chin up, and helping others to do the same.
All 17 million of us are experiencing something we never have before, something bigger than this country has ever experienced in peacetime. And yet, we are coping with it nonetheless.
It’s important to stay mindful of that. It will help us get through this next phase.
Here’s the bottom line: we as individuals must be constantly vigilant, all day long and dozens or even hundreds of times a day, in order to keep the virus at bay.
The virus only needs to be lucky once to make the leap to another host, while we need to be lucky every time we interact with someone else.
It’s not a fair fight.
But it’s precisely what we’re dealing with.
Because the virus is making that leap. And far too often.
Every day, on average, 60 people die of COVID-19.
Every day around 9,000 new infections are registered.
That’s an entire football stadium of people in less than six days.
And the numbers are rising in the hospitals and nursing homes too.
In this second wave, more people being hospitalised than during the first wave.
I realise that statistics are abstract.
And they certainly don’t tell the whole story.
But the reality is that more than one million routine hospital procedures have had to be postponed.
That’s not abstract if you’re one of the people waiting to have treatment.
The reality is that, for three months now, the staff at our hospitals and nursing homes have been under severe pressure.
They’re now stretched to the very limit.
And the flu season has yet to begin.
The reality is also that we are not dealing with just an ordinary flu, as some people – including the protesters outside – still believe, but a virus that poses a threat to everyone, and not just the most elderly among us.
Around 30,000 people have been in hospital with COVID-19, and 6,000 of them have been in intensive care.
Of those 6,000, the number of patients under the age of 50 was two-and-a-half times larger than the number of patients over the age of 80.
The hard truth is that almost all of those 6,000 people would have died had they not been treated in intensive care.
Almost without exception, those people are still experiencing shortness of breath, extreme fatigue and other symptoms long after leaving hospital.
That’s what COVID-19 does.
That’s why it’s so important to ensure that healthcare remains available.
That there’s a bed for you if you need it.
And it’s also why I want to say once again to everyone providing care in hospitals, nursing homes, private homes and municipal health services: thank you.
A lot is being asked of us all at this time, but the most is being asked of you.
I – all of us – have enormous admiration for you.
So that, in brief, is the background to the new lockdown measures.
We have no choice: we need to reduce interaction between people.
All our efforts must now be aimed at this goal.
The next question is: what will the new lockdown entail?
We are introducing a major package of measures and urgent advisories that will take effect tomorrow and will apply until at least Tuesday 19 January.
The week before then, on Tuesday 12 January, health minister Hugo de Jonge and I will hold a press conference, where we will explain what the situation will be after 19 January.
For practical reasons, the school closures will apply from this Wednesday until Monday 18 January.
In order to present a simple overview, I have divided the measures into seven points, and I will now run through the complete list.
I’ll start with the most far-reaching measures.
First, from Wednesday 16 December until at least Monday 18 January, online education will again be the norm – from primary schools right up to universities.
Just like in the spring.
Obviously, this is a drastic decision, affecting teachers, pupils, students and parents.
But it’s also an unavoidable decision.
As in the spring, we are making several exceptions, including for pupils in their final exam year, practical training, and personal supervision of pupils requiring special support.
Childcare centres will remain open only for vulnerable children and children of key workers, such as healthcare workers, police officers and public transport employees. Again, just like in the spring.
Second, starting tomorrow morning, all non-essential shops will be closed.
Only shops selling basic necessities will stay open.
That means supermarkets, bakers, butchers and other shops selling food, including weekly markets will stay open.
So will chemists, dry cleaners, opticians and home care shops.
Otherwise, all clothing shops, DIY stores, department stores, furniture shops, garden centres, electronics shops, homewares shops and almost anything else you can think of will be closed.
As an exception, it will be possible to pick up pre-ordered products from DIY stores, because sometimes things around the home need to be fixed.
And of course shops can offer home deliveries.
This is all incredibly tough news for very many business owners. But particularly because it has sometimes been extremely crowded in shopping streets in the big cities, we have no choice now but to take this decision.
Of course we are doing what has to be done to support businesses and preserve jobs.
We have a substantial support package for this purpose, which was expanded last week. It will be responsive to changing needs: higher losses in turnover will trigger extra support.
Starting tomorrow and until 27 December, it will be possible again to apply for a grant that enables business owners to keep paying their staff, from the Temporary Emergency Scheme for Job Retention (NOW).
And in the coming weeks we will continue to look at what is possible and necessary to ensure that as few companies as possible go under.
Third, starting tomorrow, all publicly accessible locations will be closed.
Indoors and outdoors.
This includes an awful lot: zoos and amusement parks, museums and Christmas markets, cinemas and theatres, casinos and saunas.
There are a few special rules in this category.
Hotels may remain open, but starting tomorrow they must close their restaurants and may not offer room service.
Too many people have been going to hotels just to eat out, with all the risks this involves.
Libraries will be closed, but picking up books will be allowed.
Banks, municipal offices and funeral locations will remain open.
Community centres may only provide activities for vulnerable groups.
For people in contact-based professions, we are separating out medical from non-medical professions.
Dentists, physiotherapists and midwives may keep their practices open.
Hairdressers, nail salons and masseurs must, unfortunately, once more close their doors.
Fourth, people are strongly advised not to have more than two visitors aged 13 or over in their home on any one day.
We are however making an exception for Christmas.
On 24, 25 and 26 December the limit will be three people, not including children under 13.
So on those three days a bit more will be allowed. But the sad truth is: it will be a low-key Christmas this year.
And of course if you have symptoms, you should stay home.
No one wants to infect their family or friends.
If you do pay a Christmas visit, wash your hands thoroughly and keep 1.5 metres away from others.
These basic rules remain crucial.
Outside, too, starting tomorrow, the maximum group size is two people, unless you’re with people from your own household.
So you can go for walks with friends, but only with one at a time.
And of course you should keep 1.5 metres apart.
Fifth, about sport.
Starting tomorrow, fitness centres, swimming pools and sport halls – all indoor sports facilities – will be closed.
Outdoor sports facilities may stay open. And children under 18 may continue to train outdoors with their teams.
But for people aged 18 and older, no more than two people are allowed to do sports together and they must stay 1.5 metres apart. Training in teams, matches, competitions and group exercise classes are not allowed.
You can of course always go for a run or a bike ride on your own. In fact, it’s a good idea.
We still strongly advise you to stay home as much as possible and not to make any unnecessary trips.
Of course if you’ve rented a house for the holidays somewhere in the Netherlands, it’s fine for you to go there.
Once you’re there, though, the same rules apply as at home.
So: no unnecessary outings.
As for non-essential travel abroad, our strong advice is still: don’t do it. And don’t book any trips for the time between now and mid-March.
Before, we said mid-January; now it’s mid-March.
The risks and uncertainty are just too great.
And we will of course ask neighbouring countries to discourage travel to the Netherlands.
Starting tomorrow, all non-EU nationals must be able show a negative COVID-19 test result if they want to enter our country from outside Europe.
Seventh and finally, we strongly advise you to work at home unless that is absolutely impossible.
All the figures we have show that people are complying with this advice much less than they did in the spring.
And I do understand: there comes a point when the walls of your home office start closing in on you.
We miss our colleagues.
And yet, all of us need to do our best to reduce the number of work-related trips and contacts.
There’s so much at stake.
Too many people are getting infected at work.
So I appeal to you once more, and to employers:
make sure that your staff can work at home. Give them that option. Make arrangements for it.
Not least because public transport should only be used for essential travel.
Here too, we need to do what we did last spring.
I’ll be frank with you: we could have a long discussion about each of these measures, each location, each profession and each group.
After all, you can argue with just a few changes. it can be perfectly safe here, can’t it?
There haven’t been any infections here, have there?
Or: what role has this particular group had in spreading the virus?
These are all understandable questions and arguments.
And if the numbers had gone down instead of up during the last few weeks, we would have asked questions like these ourselves. We would have considered which restrictions we could start relaxing a little.
But that’s not the situation we’re in.
So we don’t have that luxury.
For now, the basic principle is: the fewer contacts, the better.
Right now, we have to do everything we can do.
We have to get through this very tough period, before things get better.
And things will get better.
The time will come when we can leave the coronavirus behind us.
Life will return to normal, with very few restrictions or none at all.
It won’t happen right away.
It won’t be next week, or next month.
But thanks to the vaccine, 2021 will be a year of hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
I can imagine that after what I’ve said, many of you will have practical questions.
Like: am I a key worker?
Can my shop stay open?
Which contact-based professions fall into which category?
For all your questions, please consult the website Government.nl.
That’s where you’ll find answers to most of your questions, and guidance on where you can find more information.
Meanwhile, over the next several weeks, we need to be even more resilient.
It sounds so simple – limit your contact with others as much as possible – but it’s so difficult.
Help each other get through this.
Be patient with one another, and with healthcare workers. And with others who are doing their absolute best for us all.
Despite all these restrictions, try to enjoy this holiday season.
I wish you all a happy, healthy Christmas.
We will get through this.
With each other
And for each other.