The contrast was great, between the chagrin of the corona press conference on Friday and the humble apology of the cabinet on Monday. The same two men spoke: outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD) and outgoing Minister of Health Hugo de Jonge (CDA). They were at a different ministry on Monday, but their tone in particular made a world of difference. It was “an irritated press conference on Friday,” Rutte said on Monday. “There was a bit of acidity in the air and that was because of us.” He apologized to the Netherlands for this through the press.
Last Friday, Rutte and De Jonge should have announced further intensification of the corona measures at an inserted press conference. Due to an explosion in the number of infections – above 7,000 on Friday, above 10,000 on Saturday – the catering industry had to close earlier and a line was drawn by events and club nights. The easing of June 26 had gone wrong, resulting in ever faster rising infection rates. Nowhere in Europe is the virus currently spreading as quickly as in the Netherlands.
Nevertheless, Rutte and De Jonge were not self-critical on Friday. It was mainly due to entrepreneurs who had not maintained properly or to young people who had not adhered to the one and a half meter rule. When asked whether the cabinet had relaxed too quickly or had made a mistake, both ministers answered in the negative. “You always have to evaluate afterwards,” De Jonge had said. The relaxations had been “a logical step to take”, said Rutte, who angrily interrupted a journalist a little later when he asked whether De Jonge should not resign. That was “really an exaggerated question,” said the prime minister.
Last weekend it rained critical analyzes of the press conference, in the newspapers and on social media. Rutte had “consulted himself” this weekend and he said on Monday that the criticism had been “justified”. The Prime Minister and De Jonge had come to the conclusion that the relaxation at the end of June “will not work out well”. “If things don’t go well, we have to be completely open about it,” Rutte said. It was not often this corona crisis that the prime minister put on the robes so openly.
Also read this article: Increasing number of infections, but hospitals are not filling up — has the cabinet learned from last summer?
‘Better safe than sorry’
De Jonge said that “what seemed justified at the time, turned out to be an error of judgment, we just have to be so honest”. According to the deputy prime minister, the cabinet was especially mistaken in the behavioral effect of so many relaxations in a weekend “which many people had been looking forward to for so long”. The combination of so many contacts and the more contagious Delta variant did not work out well afterwards. The lesson that De Jonge has learned is that from now on the cabinet should more ‘be on the safe side’.
The gentlemen are not guilty of mistakes, says Rutte. What are you apologizing for then?
Maarten Hijink SP Member of Parliament on Twitter
In the coming weeks, the cabinet wants to take a critical look at the access testing system, which sometimes turned out to be unreliable or susceptible to fraud when used in the catering industry and clubs. The result was that large sources of infection could arise. De Jonge now wants to see whether the system is still ‘responsible to shape’ for these kinds of occasions. De Jonge called his ministry’s ‘Dancing with Janssen’ campaign, which gave young people access to clubs immediately after their injection, while they were still unprotected.
Rutte and De Jonge’s apologies come two days before the House of Representatives returns from the summer recess, which officially started this week. In a parliamentary debate in the Ridderzaal – the current House of Representatives has been closed since Friday due to the upcoming renovation – Rutte and De Jonge will have to account for the new wave of contamination. With their apologies, they will hope that the sting has been removed from the debate, but not all MPs seem convinced. SP member Maarten Hijink tweeted on Monday: “Apologies. But the gentlemen are not guilty of mistakes, says Rutte. What are you apologizing for then? For an uninviting press conference?”
About the high infection figures, De Jonge said on Monday that he wants these to be reduced as soon as possible “to prevent the virus from walking between generations again”. He called on all Dutch people who had a “risky contact” last weekend, such as a birthday party or neighborhood barbecue, to stay at home as much as possible this week as a precaution and to be tested – even without complaints.
Also read this article: Red risk level seems difficult for the Netherlands to avert