As a result of concerns over the Omicron coronavirus variant, the Netherlands announced a strict lockdown over Christmas. There will be closures of non-essential shops, bars, gyms, hairdressers, and other public venues until at least mid-January.
There will be a limit of two guests per household – four during the holidays. “These measures cannot be avoided”, said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
As the heavily mutated Omicron variant spreads across Europe, countries have tightened restrictions. On Sunday, the Netherlands will implement its strictest rules yet regarding Omicron.
As Mr Rutte said at a news conference on Saturday, “I stand here in a sombre mood tonight. And many people will feel the same.” According to Mr Rutte, “the Netherlands will return to lockdown on Monday.”
People are being urged to stay at home as much as possible under the new regulations. There will be strict limits on how many people can meet – a maximum of two guests ages 13 and older will be allowed in people’s homes. That number will jump to four on 24-26 December and on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Disbelief and dismay in the Netherlands
The only events allowed are funerals, weekly markets selling groceries and professional sports matches without spectators. The schools will remain closed until at least 9 January, while other lockdown measures will last until at least 14 January.
Non-essential shops can offer click-and-collect services, and restaurants can continue to sell takeaway meals.
The BBC’s Anna Holligan in The Holland said the announcement is being met with disbelief and dismay.
I can now hear sighs coming from all over the Netherlands. It’s exactly one week before Christmas, and another Christmas that’s completely different from what we expected.” Nevertheless, he said, failing to act now could result in “an unmanageable situation in hospitals” said Mr Rutte.
There were reports that the government was about to implement new measures on Saturday, which prompted people to rush to do their Christmas shopping. A curfew has been in effect in the Netherlands for weeks to prevent the spread of Omicron.
Omicron expected to dominate Europe
Over 2.9 million Coronavirus cases and over 20,000 deaths have been reported by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health since the pandemic began.
According to the report, the Omicron variant is still responsible for a small percentage of Coronavirus cases in the Netherlands, but that number is rising rapidly.
The new variant is expected to become dominant in the New Year.
Jaap van Dissel, head of the Dutch outbreak management team, said the new measures would “buy time” so that people could get booster shots and the healthcare system could prepare for possible rises in infection rates.
As a country, we are best protected if everyone gets a booster vaccination, he said.
Approximately 85% of all Dutch adults have been immunized, but so far fewer than 9% have received a booster vaccine. According to Health Minister Hugo de Jonge, all adults will receive an invitation by 7 January for a booster appointment.
Other European countries battling Omicron
France, Ireland, and Germany have also announced measures to combat the infection.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex has warned that Omicron will likely become dominant in France by the start of next year.
France has placed strict travel restrictions on those entering from the United Kingdom. The country that has been hit hardest in the region with nearly 25,000 confirmed cases of Omicron.
Covid-related deaths have already reached 1.5 million in Europe, according to the latest EU statistics.