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The Netherlands will launch a strict three-week lockdown to curb record Covid-19 infection rates, making it the first EU country to reintroduce nationwide measures since the introduction of coronavirus vaccines earlier this year.
Mark Rutte, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands, announced on Friday the “hard blow” for the country, which would close bars, restaurants and important shops such as pharmacies and supermarkets until 8:00 p.m. and non-essential shops until 6:00 p.m. for three includes weeks starting Saturday evening.
The Netherlands reported a record infection rate of more than 16,300 daily this week, adding to pressure on the government to impose extensive social restrictions to prevent the virus from spreading.
“We have unpleasant news tonight,” said Rutte at a press conference on Friday evening. “Fortunately, the vast majority of people in our country are now vaccinated. Otherwise the misery in the hospitals would be incalculable. But the pressures in healthcare are still extremely high, ”he said.
The three-week lockdown includes the reintroduction of teleworking for all sectors where possible, a limit of four guests per household, and no crowds at sporting events.
The Netherlands has seen rising infection rates since the government lifted most of the social restrictions in September.
The Dutch health authority recorded 16,287 new Covid-19 cases on Friday, 44 fewer than the previous day, when the number of tolls was the highest since the pandemic broke out in early 2020.
Rutte’s governing coalition has come under fire throughout the pandemic, initially because it opted for a so-called “smart lockdown” in the first phase of the virus and later imposed looser social restrictions and masking requirements than in other parts of Western Europe. The Dutch were also initially slower than most EU countries in introducing vaccines in early 2021, and are also lagging behind when giving booster vaccinations.
The Netherlands has not followed countries like France by making a vaccination certificate mandatory for access to shops or public places. Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said Friday the cabinet would discuss measures to remove evidence of a negative test from the country’s Covid-19 passport, forcing more people to get vaccinated to enter public spaces and shops .
The Dutch move is the first nationwide reintroduction of lockdown measures in the EU. On Friday, the Austrian government announced that it would introduce restrictions on unvaccinated people.