Netherlands to impose partial lockdown as Covid cases hit new high

The Netherlands will become the first western European country to impose a partial lockdown since the summer, Dutch media have reported, introducing strict new measures from Saturday in the face of record numbers of new Covid-19 infections.

The restrictions, due to be announced by the prime minister, Mark Rutte, on Friday evening and to last at least three weeks, include the closure of bars, restaurants and non-essential shops from 7pm, the public broadcaster NOS said.

Gatherings at home will be limited to a maximum of four people, all sporting events will be held behind closed doors, and home working will be strongly encouraged, the broadcaster said, although schools, theatres and cinemas should remain open.

The lockdown would be longer than the 14 days recommended this week by the government’s outbreak management team, which also advised limiting entry to public places strictly to those who are fully vaccinated or have recently recovered.

Currently, people who can show a recent negative coronavirus test are also allowed entry to certain public places. NOS said ministers were divided on whether to drop the test option, with a final decision to be taken later on Friday.

The moves comes at a time of record numbers of new cases in the Netherlands, which abandoned most preventive measures in late September – although the government made face masks mandatory in shops and other public venues again last weekend.

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Hospitals in the southern province of Limburg warned this week that the entire health system was “grinding to a standstill” in the country’s hardest-hit region, adding: “We are convinced that other parts of the Netherlands will soon follow.”

On Thursday the Dutch public health institute announced the country’s highest daily tally of new infections since the pandemic began, recording 16,364 new positive tests in 24 hours, an increase of 3,688 over the previous day.

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Until last month the government had insisted the Netherlands’ comparatively high vaccination rate – 69% of the population is double jabbed, against an EU average of 65.8% – would mean it could relax remaining restrictions by the end of the year.

But as a fourth wave gathers pace in Europe, it is not alone in reintroducing stricter controls: Austria’s worst-affected province, Upper Austria, has said it is planning to lock down millions of people who are not fully vaccinated within days.

Several states in Germany, which has reported record daily rates of new infections on a seven-day average since the start of the week, are also limiting entry to bars, clubs and restaurants to those who have been vaccinated or recently recovered from Covid.

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