Caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has announced a three-week partial lockdown amid surging COVID-19 cases in the Netherlands, saying his government wants to “deliver a hard blow to the virus”.
The lockdown that begins Saturday night is the first to start in Western Europe since a new wave of infections began surging across parts of the continent.
Under the lockdown, bars, restaurants and supermarkets will have to close at 8pm (19:00 GMT), professional sports matches will be played in empty stadiums and people are being urged to work from home as much as possible. Stores selling non-essential items will have to close at 6pm.
“Tonight we have a very unpleasant message with very unpleasant and far-reaching decisions,” Rutte said on Friday.
Speaking about the deteriorating situation in Europe at a press conference earlier Friday, Dr Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization (WHO) head of emergencies, said that “quite frankly, some countries are in such a difficult situation now that they’re going to find it hard not to put in place restrictive measures, at least for a short period of time, to reduce the intensity of transmission.”
Rutte also said that social distancing is returning. Masks are already widely mandated, including in shops and public transport.
Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said that the government is also working on legislation to restrict access in some “high-risk” locations and events to people who can demonstrate they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 – and not allow people who have tested negative. Austria and parts of Germany already have similar restrictions in place.
News of the possible move before the announcement had prompted fury among bar owners and sports administrators earlier Friday.
The Dutch football federation and top two professional leagues issued a statement expressing “great dismay” at the expected lockdown and insisting that football stadiums – which have strict COVID measures in place – are not a major source of infections.
“This looks like policy poverty,” the organisations said, adding that government officials “no longer know what to do”.
Rutte confirmed that a World Cup football qualifier between the Netherlands and Norway on Tuesday in Rotterdam would be played behind closed doors.
An organisation representing bar and restaurant owners also slammed the new restrictions.
On Thursday the country’s public health institute recorded 16,364 new positive tests in 24 hours – the highest number of any time during the pandemic that has killed more than 18,600 people in the Netherlands.
The country, where nearly 85 percent of adults are fully vaccinated, largely ended lockdown restrictions at the end of September.