For one month, the Netherlands will enter a strict nationwide lockdown, Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced Saturday. It will be the first EU country to reimpose restrictions amidst concerns over the Omicron variant surge.
Restaurants, bars, non-essential shops, beauty salons, concert venues, and cinemas are closed, starting from last Sunday. Indoor sports facilities will also close, while supermarkets and chemists will operate on restricted hours. All schools will be shut until January 9.
As for gatherings, the country now imposes a limit of two guests per household; for Christmas and New Year’s, the limit has been extended to four guests.
“The Netherlands is again shutting down. That is unavoidable because of the fifth wave that is coming at us with the Omicron variant,” Rutte stated in a televised address. “I can now hear the whole of the Netherlands sighing. This is exactly one week before Christmas, another Christmas that is completely different from what we would like.”
He added, however, that a failure to act now will lead to “an unmanageable situation in hospitals”.
The Netherlands boasts an 85% vaccination rate amongst its population, with only 9% having received their booster shots. Though Omicron variant only accounts for a small portion of coronavirus cases in the country, it is expected to become the dominant variant by the end of the year.
Jaap van Dissel, head of the Dutch outbreak management team, has said that the new lockdown measures would help to “buy time” for more people to get boosters and vaccinations.
“As a country we are best protected if as many people as possible get a booster vaccination,” he said.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Netherlands has recorded more than 2.9 million COVID-19 cases. Reported deaths have tallied to 20,420.
Art Macky Arquilla