By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent
(Worthy News) – The Netherlands’ government announced Europe’s toughest Christmas season lockdown Saturday as nations across the continent tried to halt massive COVID-19 infections spurred by the Omicron variant.
“I stand here tonight in a somber mood. And a lot of people watching will feel that way too,” said caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte. “To sum it up in one sentence, the Netherlands will go back into lockdown from tomorrow, Sunday 5 am,” he added.
All non-essential stores, bars, and restaurants in the Netherlands will be closed until January 14, Rutte explained. Schools and universities will shut until January 9, Rutte stressed.
The lockdown limits private holiday celebrations with residents allowed to accept two visitors except for Christmas and New Year’s Eve when four will be possible, he explained.
Rutte said the move was “unavoidable because of the fifth wave caused by the omicron variant that is bearing down on us.”
The Dutch National Institute for Public Health reported more than 2.9 million coronavirus cases since the pandemic began and 20,000 related deaths on a population of 17.3 million.
It says the Omicron variant still accounts for a minority of coronavirus cases in the Netherlands but is spreading rapidly and could become the dominant variant by the New Year.
The head of the Dutch outbreak management team, Jaap van Dissel, said the new measures would “buy time,” allowing more people to get booster shots.
It would also enable the healthcare system to prepare for a possible rise in infections, he said. “As a country, we are best protected if as many people as possible get a booster vaccination,” the official added.
Saturday’s announcement came despite growing protests and doubts about the effectiveness of vaccines and the lockdown measures in the Netherlands and beyond.
Ahead of the lockdown, panic-stricken residents were seen rushing to stores for Christmas shopping.
France canceled New Year’s Eve fireworks, while Denmark closed theaters, concert halls, amusement parks, and museums.
Ireland imposed an 8 p.m. curfew on pubs and bars and limited attendance at indoor and outdoor events.
In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan said the government is worried about the climbing cases and their potential to overwhelm the health care system. He declared a “major incident” Saturday, a move that allows local councils in Britain’s capital to coordinate work more closely with emergency services.
Alarmed France, Cyprus, and Austria also tightened travel restrictions.
Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin captured the continent’s sense in an address to the nation, saying the new restrictions were needed to protect lives and livelihoods from the resurgent virus.
“None of this is easy,” Martin said Friday night. “We are all exhausted with COVID and the restrictions it requires. The twists and turns, the disappointments, and the frustrations take a heavy toll on everyone. But it is the reality that we are dealing with.”
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