The Netherlands will impose western Europe’s first partial lockdown since the summer this weekend, in a bid to stop a surge in Covid-19 cases, Dutch broadcaster NOS said on Friday.
Bars, restaurants and non-essential stores will be ordered to close at 7pm for at least three weeks starting on Saturday, NOS said, citing government sources.
People will be urged to work from home as much as possible, and no audiences will be allowed at sporting events in the coming weeks. Schools, theatres and cinemas would remain open.
Caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte’s cabinet will take a final decision later on Friday, and will announce the new measures during a televised press conference scheduled for 6pm.
New coronavirus infections in the country of 17.5 million have increased rapidly after social distancing measures were dropped late September and hit a record of about 16,300 in 24 hours on Thursday.
The new wave of infections has put pressure on hospitals throughout the country, forcing them to scale back regular care again to treat Covid-19 patients.
To contain the outbreak, the government’s pandemic advisory panel on Thursday recommended imposing a partial lockdown and to limit entrance to public places to people who have been fully vaccinated or have recently recovered from a coronavirus infection.
A new lockdown would mean a drastic turn in policy for the Dutch government, which until last month thought that a relatively high vaccination rate would mean it could further ease measures towards the end of the year.
But it is not alone in considering strict measures as infections spike to record levels. Austria on Thursday said it was days away from placing millions of unvaccinated people in lockdown.
People who are unvaccinated in Austria – about 35 per cent of the population – are already banned from going to hair salons, restaurants, cinemas and ski lifts.
“A lockdown for the unvaccinated means one cannot leave one’s home unless one is going to work, shopping /[for essentials/], stretching one’s legs – namely exactly what we all had to suffer through in 2020,” chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said.
Many developed countries, however, are sticking to the view that vaccine rollouts mean lockdowns are unnecessary, with Britain, for instance, relying on booster shots to increase immunity. A booster campaign is also under way in Ireland, with shots being offered to people aged over 60 and frontline healthcare workers.
About 85 per cent of the adult Dutch population has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Booster shots have so far only been provided to a small group of people with weak immune systems, and will be offered to people aged 80 years and older in December.
Last month, about 55 per cent of patients in Dutch hospitals and 70 per cent of those in intensive care were unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated, data provided by the Netherlands’ Institute for Health showed. – Reuters