These were some of the decisions relayed by Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Minister for Public Health Ernst Kuipers at the press conference held on Tuesday evening. Rutte said the government was consciously pushing the boundaries. The infection rate is sky high and is now expected to rise even faster, the PM told the people.

The Cabinet chose to uphold most of the recommendations issued by the Outbreak Management Team (OMT), which had been published before the press conference, and is actually more generous than the experts, who had recommended that pubs, restaurants and cultural institutions close at 8pm rather than 10pm

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Quarantine rules are changing, as well. Younger people who have come into contact with someone who has tested positive are no longer required to quarantine if they do not have any symptoms themselves. This rule applies, inter alia, to pupils and students aged under 18.

The rules have also been relaxed for those who received a booster shot more than a week ago or tested positive (and therefore recovered from the coronavirus) less than eight weeks ago.

The advice remains to avoid contact with vulnerable people after contact with an infected person. The OMT also advised to do a self-test every day for five days, but the government says nothing about that.

This means that different students are subject to different quarantine rules, depending on their age and vaccination status. All students who have symptoms must stay at home and take self-tests. Students who test positive must self-isolate.

Lecturers exempt in certain circumstances

Teachers and lecturers who are ‘essential’ to the education system or find themselves in an ‘exceptional situation’ are exempt from quarantine rules, provided that they do not have any symptoms. According to a press release by the Ministry of Public Health, exceptions for such people can only be made ‘if both the employer and employee agree, and subject to strict conditions, such as daily self-testing’.

In practice, the above can only be a reference to teachers/lecturers who have not yet received a booster shot (or received it less than a week ago), or to teachers/lecturers who have not been vaccinated at all.

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Lecture rooms

So what are the new rules for students congregating in lecture rooms and lecture theatres? A spokesperson for the ministry said that the rules implemented a few weeks ago continue to apply. The number of students allowed to be in one lecture room or lecture theatre at any given time is capped at 75.

The fundamental rules designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus continue to apply. Everyone must practise physical distancing where possible, wash their hands regularly, wear face masks in public spaces and make sure rooms are well ventilated.

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Staffing shortage

The Minister for Health, Ernst Kuipers, did warn that the relaxation of the rules will cause the infection rate to rise. As a result, more people will be required to quarantine, meaning that certain places will be forced to close their doors despite the relaxations, due to a staffing shortage.

The measures announced yesterday are expected to remain in force for the next six weeks, although an evaluation will be performed in three weeks. Rutte warned that the Cabinet may be forced to impose stricter restrictions then. He predicted that, if that happens, he will be criticised for implementing a ‘yo-yo policy’, but he is prepared to take that risk.