La Haye (AFP)
The Netherlands is extending coronavirus restrictions until February 9, as infections are still high and the government is “very concerned” about the UK variant of the disease, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Tuesday.
Under the current restrictions, which were due to expire on Jan. 18, schools have been closed, all stores except essentials are closed, and people are prohibited from having more than two people in their homes.
“I don’t think I’m going to surprise you tonight, we had to decide to extend the lockdown for three weeks,” Rutte said in a televised press conference.
Rutte said the decision was a “huge setback” and would be difficult for many people, especially businesses that suffered during the pandemic.
But he added: “Almost everyone will understand that there was no other choice, because the numbers are not dropping fast enough and we are now facing the threat of the UK variant of the coronavirus.”
The government is also considering imposing an evening curfew and has sought advice from public health authorities, although it is still not enthusiastic about the idea, Rutte said.
Primary schools could reopen earlier, Jan.25 at the earliest, but the government is still investigating whether that is possible, Rutte said.
The Dutch restrictions are the most severe in the country since the start of the pandemic. For much of the last year, he endorsed a “smart lockdown” that was more relaxed than its European neighbors.
But she was hit hard by the second and third waves of the disease and has now introduced measures almost as harsh as those in neighboring Germany and Belgium.
The Dutch Prime Minister said information about the spread in Britain and Ireland of a new variant of the coronavirus was “alarming”, with around 100 cases found in the Netherlands so far.
“We are very concerned about this variant. The images of London and also of Ireland are alarming. And that’s an understatement, ”Rutte said.
The Dutch general election due in March should still be able to go ahead despite the extension of restrictions, Rutte said.
“We will really do all we can to make the elections possible on March 17 and to make them run safely,” he said.
© 2021 AFP