The cabinet on Friday agreed to scrap the last of the coronavirus measures currently in place, dropping the self-test requirement if people have complaints as well as the remaining quarantine measures.
The move had been recommended by the government’s Outbreak Management Team earlier this month.
Coronavirus will now be treated as any other infection of the airways, health minister Ernst Kuipers said after the Friday cabinet meeting. The remaining regional testing centres will close and there will be no new vaccination round, Kuipers said.
‘Almost everyone’ in the Netherlands has build up some level of resistance to the infection and coronavirus is now less serious than it was, the minister told reporters.
‘By ending the last of the coronavirus measures, we are leaving behind an extraordinary period, and one which we will not forget quickly,’ Kuipers said. ‘And we must not forget it, because coronavirus is still with us and will remain with us.’
The first coronavirus case in the Netherlands was identified just over three years ago. Since then an estimated 8.6 million people caught the virus and over 47,000 people have died.
In addition, one in eight people are reporting long-lasting health complaints and tens of thousands are suffering from Long Covid.
The cabinet’s decision comes as hospitalisations have been rising again, particularly in the south, where Carnaval was celebrated some two weeks ago. On Friday, 884 people were being treated in hospital with coronavirus, of whom 31 are in intensive care.
The public health institute RIVM said earlier this week that even though the level of circulation has gone down ‘there are still groups of vulnerable people who have a higher risk of serious illness’.
Some patients’ groups have reacted to the news that the last measures are disappearing with disappointment, saying the government’s decision is a slap in the face to everyone with serious health issues.
‘We would ask everyone to take those with vulnerable health into account and understand that they might not want to shake hands or would prefer to keep their distance,’ said lung charity Longfonds. ‘Let us show solidarity and take each others’ needs into account.’
The RIVM says will continue to monitor the virus closely, using sewage, hospital admissions and other sources, even though it is now at an endemic stage. ‘Effective surveillance remains important to maintain early detection of resurgences, new variants and changes in protection against severe illness due to COVID-19,’ the agency said.