Dutch are first in EU to resume lockdown amid skyrocketing Omicron

The Netherlands became the first EU country to enter a strict national lockdown, in response to the spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant which will shut down parts of the economy until at least mid-January .

Strict new restrictions to close all bars, restaurants, non-essential stores, cinemas and gymnasiums will take effect from Sunday morning and last until at least January 14. Professional sporting events will take place without crowds and the Foyers can invite a maximum of four guests. during the Christmas period, to be reduced to two after the holidays.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters on Saturday that the measures were “inevitable” in the face of a variant that is spreading “even faster” than authorities had expected. “We have to intervene now to prevent this from getting worse,” Rutte said.

The lockdown, which is the strictest imposed by the Dutch government since 2020, was announced after an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday and followed advice from the country’s health authority that a ‘hard’ lockdown was required from urgently.

The Netherlands has a mixed record in the face of the pandemic. The government initially opted for a lighter ‘smart lockdown’ during the virus’s first phase in 2020. But this year it has been forced to take some of the toughest measures ever seen in the EU in the face of increasing number of cases, tariffs and hospitalizations. Rutte’s government had been criticized for lifting almost all restrictions in September, leading to an increase in infections in the fall.

In the past 24 hours, the Netherlands recorded 14,742 positive cases of Covid-19, continuing a steady downward trend over the past month. The numbers are down from the peak of over 24,000 recorded in November, but health officials have advised stricter measures are needed to contain the highly contagious Omicron strain.

The Dutch health authority (RIVM) estimates that the Omicron strain will become the dominant cause of infections before the end of the year. Jaap van Dissel, director of disease control at RIVM, said that to date the new strain represents only a “small share of infections… But we know that share will increase.”

The government is also speeding up access to booster shots after falling behind its EU counterparts in administering extra doses that health experts say are vital to maintaining some immunity to the drug. virus. The Netherlands has also been slower than most EU countries to vaccinate people, starting their vaccination program in January this year.

Restrictive measures have been met with street protests and violence in recent months, including during two nights of riots in Rotterdam last month.

Rutte urged the country to show unity: “We have already proven that we can handle a lot of things together. Together we will also overcome this period. I am absolutely convinced of it, “he said.

Also on Saturday, Germany announced that it would ban all travelers from entering the country from the UK, except German nationals, residents and transit passengers, from midnight Sunday. to stop the spread of Omicron.

Anyone entering Germany from the UK, whether vaccinated or not, will need to undergo a negative PCR test and will need to be quarantined for 14 days.

The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s leading public health agency, announced the restrictions on Saturday evening as it classified the UK as a viral variant area.

additional report by Guy Chazan in Berlin

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