Dutch announce COVID lockdown easing amid record infections

A general view of a largely deserted Dutch urban center is seen as the country enters its third day of lockdown, in Den Bosch, the Netherlands, December 21, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

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  • The Netherlands ends the containment in place since mid-December
  • New cases are at record highs, but hospitalizations are stable
  • Shops will open but bars and restaurants will remain closed

AMSTERDAM, Jan 14 (Reuters) – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced on Friday the reopening of shops, hairdressers and gyms, partially lifting the lockdown despite a record number of new COVIC-19 cases.

“We are taking a big step and that also means taking a big risk,” Rutte told a televised press conference.

Non-essential shops, hairdressers, beauty salons and other service providers will be allowed to reopen under strict conditions until 5 p.m. local time (4 p.m. GMT) for the first time since mid-December.

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Rutte added that the uncertainties meant bars, restaurants and cultural venues would have to remain closed until at least January 25.

Earlier on Friday, restaurants in a Dutch town reopened and others said they would open on Saturday regardless of the government’s plans as popular support for the month-long lockdown evaporates despite pressure on hospitals and records new infections.

“We are taking a calculated risk because we have to. Lockdowns are very hard on everyone and keeping everything closed is also bad for our health,” Health Minister Ernst Kuipers said.

Rutte’s government ordered the lockdown in mid-December as a wave of the Delta variant forced the health system to cancel all but the most urgent care and it emerged that rising cases of Omicron would overwhelm him. Read more

On Friday, the Netherlands Institute of Health (RIVM) announced a record of more than 35,000 infections in 24 hours. Infections have continued to rise despite the lockdown, which bans all public gatherings, with a record high of more than 200,000 in the week of January 11.

But hospitalizations have fallen slightly.

A poll by Hart van Nederland released on Friday found that 89% of people were in favor of reopening stores and a majority also supported the reopening of restaurants and cultural institutions.

Over 86% of Dutch adults are fully vaccinated and nearly 50% received a booster shot during a major campaign during lockdown.

In the southern city of Valkenburg, restaurants opened on Friday in defiance of the rules and with the support of the city’s mayor, and 15 other municipalities said they would follow suit on Saturday.

Rutte said he viewed the actions as one-off protests and had spoken to city officials about enforcing the new rules after this weekend.

Primary and secondary schools reopened on January 10 after a longer-than-expected winter vacation, but have been plagued by frequent layoffs due to illness or exposure of teachers or students.

On Friday, the government said universities and vocational schools would also reopen and announced a shorter quarantine period after exposure and an expansion in the use of masks.

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Reporting by Toby Sterling, Bart Meijer and Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Janet Lawrence, Mike Collett-White and Jonathan Oatis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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