Netherlands enters strict lockdown until 14 January due to Omicron surge

Netherlands enters strict lockdown until 14 January due to Omicron surge
Lockdown ‘unavoidable’ because of fifth wave caused by Omicron variant, Rutte announces

The Netherlands will go into a tough lockdown from Sunday morning until at least January 14 to limit a feared Covid-19 surge due to the Omicron coronavirus variant, Prime Minister Mark Rutte has announced.

“The Netherlands is again shutting down. That is unavoidable because of the fifth wave that is coming at us with the Omicron variant,” he told a news conference.

All non-essential stores, bars, restaurants and other public places in the country will shut from Sunday.

Rutte said the new order builds on an existing partial lockdown already in force that requires bars, restaurants and other public gathering places such as cinemas and theatres to close at 5 pm.

The country has already seen widespread protests and disorder over existing curbs.

Other measures include a recommendation that households receive no more than two visitors and that gatherings outside are also limited to a maximum of two people.

A failure to act now would likely lead to “an unmanageable situation in hospitals”, which have already scaled back regular care to make space for Covid-19 patients, Rutte said.

Acknowledging the poor timing of another lockdown, he said: “I can hear the whole of the Netherlands sighing,.

“All this, exactly one week before Christmas. Another Christmas that is completely different from what we want.

“Very bad news again for all those businesses and cultural institutions that rely on the holidays.” The head of the Dutch public health institute, Jaap van Dissel, described the shutdown as a preventative move that would “buy time” for more people to get booster vaccines and for the nation’s health care system to prepare for a possible new surge in infections.

While infections in the country have dropped from record levels after the introduction of a night time lockdown last month, cases have surged in the face of the new Omicron variant.

On Saturday, the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) reported 14,616 new infections in 24 hours.

The Netherlands has reported over 2.9 million cases and 20,420 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Additional reporting by agencies