THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte tightened recommended measures Tuesday to rein in the spread of the coronavirus, warning that if the country does not control new infections the Netherlands could go “back to square one.”
Rutte gave people “very, very, urgent advice” not to hold parties at home and to limit events like birthday celebrations and other private house gatherings to a maximum of six people. However, the Dutch government did not impose any new mandatory restrictions.
“If we’re not careful, we will be back to square one inside the foreseeable future,” Rutte warned.
If people want to organize parties for more than six people, they should rent a space where all guests can maintain social distance while seated, the prime minister said. He also urged people to continue working from home.
Rutte’s comments came after the Dutch public health institute announced that there had been just over 4,000 new confirmed cases in the Netherlands over the last week, around the same number as the previous week.
The percentage of positive tests in the country edged very slightly lower to 3.5%. The confirmed COVID-19 death toll in the Netherlands stood at 6,175 as of Tuesday, although the true figure is believed to be higher because many people thought to have died were not tested.
The number of new confirmed cases has been on the rise since the Netherlands removed most of its coronavirus restrictions on July 1. Students returned to high schools in the country’s north this week for the first time in months without requirements for face masks or social distancing between children.
To prevent infections at schools, Rutte said students must stay home if they have coronavirus symptoms and if somebody in their family tested positive for the virus.
“We showed between March and June that we could, together, get on top of the virus,” Rutte said. “Now we have to show that we can keep the virus under control together.”
Rutte’s government has a policy of allowing local authorities to impose infection-prevention measures when necessary, saying that the precautions are unnecessary in some parts of the Netherlands. Amsterdam and Rotterdam recently began requiring face masks on busy streets and in markets.
Authorities in Amsterdam ordered a high-end clothing and home products store Tuesday to close for up to 14 days after several confirmed cases among the staff. Shoppers who had visited the store, De Bijenkorf, and come down with symptoms were urged to get tested.
Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said the government was still considering whether to make self-quarantines mandatory for people who were in close contact with an infected individual or returning from high-risk areas. De Jonge previously had announced such a move, but backed down following criticism from lawmakers.