The Government of The Netherlands has decreed a strict lockdown until January 14 on all non-essential activities due to the spread of the coronavirus Omicron variant. A daily cap of two visitors per household has also been decreed, which will be raised to four people for Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.
I am here tonight in a gloomy mood. To sum it up in one sentence, the Netherlands will return to lockdown starting tomorrow, Acting Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a televised message.
Rutte also explained that only essential businesses, such as supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations, and other minor services will remain open, but everything else, including shops, restaurants, cinemas, theaters, or gyms, will have to close their doors for almost a month.
The new restrictions were recommended by the government’s Outbreak Management Team.
“A sudden press conference on Saturday, four days after the last one, does not indicate anything good,” Rutte started by saying.
Effective Sunday morning, all stores, services, and hospitality venues will close until January 14. The Netherlands has been under partial lockdown since late November, with face masks required in most settings and “non-essential locations” forced to close between 5 pm and 5 am. However, the new restrictions mark the sharpest curbs on freedom and socialization since the country entered a hard lockdown this time last year.
While the average number of new cases reported every day has fallen from a record 22,450 in late November, the country is still recording an average of 15,000 new daily infections, up from just under 10,000 the last time the country went into hard lockdown.
Deaths, however, have not increased to match the caseload, with 50 fatalities reported Saturday, around the same daily figure as a year ago. While the new measures are taken to curb the spread of the highly transmissible and vaccine-resistant Omicron variant of COVID-19, this new strain would appear to cause significantly milder symptoms than previous ones.
The Netherlands is not the only European country to reimpose restrictions over the variant, however. In the UK, ministers will reportedly propose a post-Christmas lockdown to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and in Denmark, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has announced a series of new restrictions on stores and hospitality venues. In Ireland, the government has announced earlier closing times for pubs and restaurants to last until the end of January.