Rutte still backs COVID-19 curfew and school closure decisions, angering parliament

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said during a debate in Thursday’s Tweed Comer newspaper that he still fully supports the decision to introduce a stay-at-home order in January 2021 aimed at de-escalating the coronavirus crisis. The allegations provoked frustration, irritation and anger among most opposition members of the House of Representatives, including members of PvdA, GroenLinks, PVV and SGP. Rutte also drew ire from his opponents by saying he still thought the school closures were defensible.

Prime Minister Rutte fully acknowledged that both measures were far-reaching, and that school closures in particular were “horrible”. But it was necessary, the Prime Minister repeatedly stressed. Opposition parties say the cabinet should have spent more time considering alternatives, such as introducing an obligation to force citizens to work from home.

The Rutte government has been accused of effectively using school closures as a means of forcing parents to work from home. Prime Minister Rutte told lawmakers on Thursday that a work-from-home mandate was politically unfeasible. Moreover, such an obligation would not work in this “fundamentally anarchic country.”

Mr Rutte said a mandatory curfew was introduced because “there was nothing else to do”. “Schools were already closed and there was nothing else we could do. We were standing together as a nation with our backs against the wall.” Intensive care units are overcrowded and the rest of the health system is barely functioning, he summed up.

He believes the country was headed out of control. “The impact was huge, but at the time we had no other choice,” he said of the cabinet’s decision to force citizens to comply with curfews for the first time since World War II.

“I still support the introduction of curfews,” Rutte said. He still believes the move was “necessary and justified.” The Tweed Comer newspaper said it did not understand Mr Rutte’s claims because the effects of the stay-at-home order had never been investigated. The enraged prime minister failed to persuade the opposition.

The decision to close schools has been postponed as long as possible, Rutte said. In the end, the cabinet decided “because there was a risk of a complete flood.” Rutte stressed that this is “the last thing we want to do, but it cannot be ruled out even considering a possible future pandemic.”

Opposition parties believe Rutte has refused to learn a lesson from the impact of drastic measures taken by his cabinet. They were also deeply disappointed by his refusal to say he should have taken a different path in retrospect of the pandemic.

The majority of Tweed Comers want independent research into the usefulness and necessity of school closures, curfews and mask mandates. So far, the Cabinet has rejected this. Coalition parties VVD, D66, CDA and opposition parties PVV, GroenLinks, PvdA, SP and SGP said the measures were so far-reaching that research into their effectiveness in combating the pandemic was justified, and they said they would be open to future research. I also said it to draw lessons from the pandemic. DENK and Groep Van Haga also want three separate investigations, as revealed in Thursday’s debate on the Dutch Safety Commission’s investigation into the government’s approach.

Having better insight into the effectiveness of various measures “could help create and maintain support. Success of a policy depends on support,” said VVD MP Judith Thielen. Opposition parties also agreed that the study would also be important as an aid if and when a pandemic hits later, measures need to be taken.

The PVV also seeks the cabinet’s acknowledgment of mistakes in introducing curfews, mandatory mask wearing and school closures. The Dutch Safety Board also recommended that individual measures be investigated.

Tweed Kummer criticized both for informing the entire Dutch public about the planned measures based on various timelines and charts, and for the insufficient substantiation of the measures. For example, an investigation by the Dutch Safety Commission found that the second school closure was primarily aimed at discouraging parents from going to work. “Children have been used as ankle bracelets to keep their parents at home,” said PvdA parliamentarian Julian Buschoff.

“The kids paid the price,” said GroenLinks Rep. Lisa Westerveld. Children from particularly vulnerable families are lagging behind in education, and many young people suffer from mental health problems. Some young people still struggle with this.

Health Minister Ernst Kuipers promised to expand the research assigned to both ZonMw and the National Institute of Public Health and Environment (RIVM). The two have already been instructed by the ministry to study the impact of all coronavirus measures taken at the same time. They need to map as much as possible the impact of individual measures, including curfews, going forward. Rutte still backs COVID-19 curfew and school closure decisions, angering parliament

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