Dutch PM sorry for early reopening as France tightens Covid rules

Rules tightened in Netherlands and France as infections surge across Europe, driven by Delta variant

As governments in multiple EU states struggle to curb an increasingly alarming surge in Covid-19 cases, the Dutch premier, Mark Rutte, has apologised and conceded that restrictions reinstated this weekend were lifted too soon.

Meanwhile France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, unveiled a raft of new measures on Monday, including making health certificates mandatory in cafes, bars and restaurants and on planes and long-distance trains from next month.

While cases are rising, hospital admissions in most EU countries have not so far followed the same curve, prompting officials to suggest that as vaccination campaigns advance, hospital data should become a bigger factor in responding to the pandemic.

Rutte last week reimposed curbs on bars, restaurants and nightclubs in the Netherlands and cancelled all events involving large crowds until at least 14 August as new cases rose almost sevenfold, from a rolling seven-day average of 49 for every million people on 4 July to nearly 330 at the weekend.

“What we thought would be possible turned out not to be in practice,” he said on Monday. “We had poor judgment, which we regret and for which we apologise.” At least 30 event organisers have launched joint legal proceedings over the U-turn.

The Dutch health minister, Hugo de Jonge, said last week that holidays could be affected by the surge but he was hopeful that other EU countries would look at hospital data rather than infections when debating quarantine or test requirements on Dutch travellers.

“Two weeks ago all the signals were green,” De Jonge said. “Now there is reason to intervene. This is unprecedented.” However, Dutch hospital admissions remain low at 2.7 a million, down from a peak of more than 100 in early April.

Macron said in a televised address on Monday that French health workers who had not been vaccinated by September would face sanctions, and health certificates proving vaccination, a negative test or Covid immunity would be required in cinemas, theatres and at concerts from this month. From August the certificate will also be required in cafes, bars and restaurants.

New infections in France have surged by 65% in a week, from an average of 34 to 56 for every million people. Macron said PCR tests, which have been free in France until now, would have to be paid for from the end of the summer holidays, as part of a concerted drive to encourage “the entire population to get vaccinated – the only sure path out of this crisis”.

As in much of Europe and the US, France’s rate of first-dose vaccinations has started to slow as it begins running up against more vaccine-hesitant or hard-to-reach groups, potentially threatening the goal of herd immunity. So far 53% of the total population have had one dose and 39% are fully vaccinated.

Europe cases

Other countries to have experienced vey rapid surges include the continent’s most popular holiday destinations, such as Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Cases in Greece and Spain have more than doubled in the past week, from seven-day averages of 69 and 157 a million to 176 and 316 respectively. The Catalonia region, which includes Barcelona, has reimposed curbs on nightlife in an effort to tame an increase mainly among unvaccinated young people.

Nearly half of Portugal, where average daily infections have risen from 203.7 to 265.6 for every million people in the past week, is back under a night-time curfew, with several regions also now requiring a vaccination certificate or negative test to book into a hotel or eat indoors at a restaurant.

“We continue to observe a worsening of the pandemic,” a government spokesperson, Mariana Vieira da Silva, said last week, adding that 60 Portuguese municipalities now represented a “high risk” of transmission, up from 45 the previous week.

New infections in Germany are rising more slowly, from an average of 6.8 a million to nine, an increase of 32%, with new weekly hospital admissions remaining low at 1.7 a million. Authorities aim to focus on hospital admissions rather than infections, German media have reported.

Cases ticked up last week after two months of steady decline, and the health minister, Jens Spahn, has said lifting the remaining restrictions will depend on vaccination rates, with social gatherings of more than 10 people not from the same household still banned for those who are not fully vaccinated.

While 90% of over-60s will soon be vaccinated, it will take a “big publicity drive” to reach a rate of 85% among younger populations, he said. About 57% of Germany’s total population have received at least one dose and almost 39% are fully vaccinated.

The Bild daily reported on Monday that the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the national disease control agency, was pushing for hospital admissions to be “an additional leading factor” when assessing the state of the pandemic.

Citing an RKI document, the paper said the agency believed that “several indicators would still be necessary for evaluation, but their weighting should change” owing to a “decrease in the proportion of severe cases” due to widespread vaccination.

Experts have said the Delta variant could account for 70% of all cases in Europe by early next month, rising to 90% by the beginning of September.

• The graph in this article was amended on 13 July 2021. It shows total daily cases, not daily cases per million people as stated in a previous version.


Jon Henley Europe correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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