COVID-19: Netherlands to return to partial lockdown amid infection rise

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The Netherlands will return to a partial lockdown from Saturday amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, its government has announced.

Under the three-week lockdown, bars, restaurants and supermarkets will have to close at 8pm, while professional sports matches will be played in empty stadiums.

Stores selling non-essential items will have to close at 6pm, and people are being urged to work from home as much as possible.

Social distancing measures will be re-imposed, and the government is recommending that no more than four visitors be allowed in a home.

The lockdown is the first in Western Europe since a new wave of infections began surging across parts of the continent.

It was announced by caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who said his government wanted to “deliver a hard blow to the virus”.

In a televised address on Friday, he said: “Tonight we are bringing a very unpleasant message with very unpleasant and far-reaching measures.

“The virus is everywhere and needs to be combated everywhere.”

An organisation representing bar and restaurant owners criticised the government, saying: “Hospitality businesses are again being presented with the bill for failing government policy.”

It comes just hours after Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced a lockdown for unvaccinated people in two hard-hit regions next week, with the possibility that similar measures could be brought in nationwide.

In Germany, people are being urged to avoid large events and to reduce their contacts as virus cases increase.

Dr Michael Ryan, the World Health Organisation’s head of emergencies, spoke about Europe earlier on Friday when he said: “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.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said on Friday: “I am seeing the storm clouds gathering over parts of the European continent.

“We have been here before and we remember what happens when a wave starts rolling in.”

The Netherlands on Thursday recorded 16,364 new cases of COVID-19 in 24 hours – the highest number since the pandemic began.

The country has recorded 18,600 deaths related to the disease.

Nearly 85% of adults in the Netherlands are fully vaccinated, compared to about 65% of the total population of the European Economic Area.

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