The Netherlands is going back into lockdown from Sunday morning in an effort to buy time to head off the impact of the Omicron version of coronavirus.
The lockdown, involving the closure of schools and higher education, all non-essential shops, schools and colleges, and cultural institutions, will come into effect from 5am on Sunday morning.
The aim, health minister Hugo de Jonge said, is to win time to give as many people as possible time to get a booster injection and to find out how sick people can become with the Omicron variant so hospitals can prepare.
Prime minister Mark Rutte said the new lockdown is unavoidable given the wave of infections which will hit the Netherlands in the coming weeks. ‘We have to take measures now as a precaution,’ he said. ‘We have to keep ahead of the wave that is coming our way’.
The new rules include an ‘urgent recommendation’ that households welcome no more than two guests over the age of 13 within a 24 hour period, apart from on the three days of the Christmas holiday and on New Year’s day.
Schools, colleges and universities, and after school clubs, will all close immediately, and should prepare for remote learning in the first week after the holidays officially end. All indoor sports will also stop. Outdoor sports can continue up to 5pm, while professional sports matches will continue, without spectators.
Jaap van Dissel, chairman of the government’s Outbreak Management Team, said he expected the Omicron variant to spread quickly throughout Netherlands and to account for the majority of infections at some point between Christmas and New Year.
Omicron, he said, is more resistant to the immunity which previous infections and vaccinations provide than the previous variants. It is too different from the variant of coronavirus the vaccine was developed for, he said.
‘I hope everyone will make use of the booster,’ he stressed. ‘As a country we are best protected if as many people as possible get a booster vaccination.’
Health minister Hugo de Jonge said that at the moment, people can continue to go on holiday.
‘But keep to the rules of the country where you are going, including those of the Netherlands,’ he said. ‘You may have to deal with extra rules in that country or when you come back to the Netherlands.’
The Netherlands is currently involved in talks on tightening up requirements for people from outside the Schengen area, he said. That many include compulsory quarantine for everyone returning to the Netherlands from a non-EU country who has not been fully vaccinated.
Those talks will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.
The measures will run until January 14 at least, but will be reviewed before that date.
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