The Hague, Dec 18 (EFE).- The Dutch government announced Saturday that it was imposing a strict lockdown over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays to deal with a “fifth wave” of the Covid-19 pandemic caused by the Omicron variant.
Starting Sunday, non-essential shops, restaurants, hairdressers and gyms will be closed until Jan. 14, while schools and universities are to suspend activity until Jan. 9.
Acting Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that only supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations and other establishments that provide essential services will be permitted to remain open.
Households are urged to receive no more than two visitors, though the recommendation allow for four visitors on Christmas Eve, Christmas, St. Stephen’s Day (Dec. 26) and New Year’s Eve.
Outdoor gatherings are limited to two people.
Authorities are asking people to remain in their homes as much as possible, but police will not enforce confinement.
“The Netherlands is again shutting down. That is unavoidable because of the fifth wave that is coming at us with the Omicron variant,” Rutte told a news conference.
Omicron, he said, is “spreading even faster than we had feared,” and intervention is needed to avert “an unmanageable situation in hospitals.”
The leader of the longest-lived caretaker government in Dutch history – nine months – was joined for the briefing by the country’s chief epidemiologist, Jaap van Dissel, who said that even people who have received both doses of Covid-19 vaccine are not sufficiently protected against Omicron.
Van Dissel called on unvaccinated people to have the shot and for those with two doses to get the booster.
Around 84 percent of the roughly 11 million Dutch residents over the age of 12 have had two doses of vaccine and nearly 1.5 million people have gotten the booster.
Rumors that another lockdown was imminent sent people rushing to the stores and crowds were seen in shopping districts.
The average number of new cases per day in the Netherlands declined over the last week from more than 20,000 to less than 15,000, but officials fear that a surge in infections would overwhelm hospitals. EFE ir/dr