Dutch PM extends coronavirus lockdown by three weeks

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says country faces threat of British coronavirus variant

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte gives a press conference in The Hague, on January 12, 2021, for an explanation of the Covid-19 measures in the Netherlands.  The Netherlands is extending coronavirus restrictions until February 9 as case numbers are still high and concerns remain about the UK variant of the disease, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said. - Netherlands OUT
 / AFP / ANP / Bart Maat
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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte extended his country’s tough, five-week lockdown by another three weeks on Tuesday.

Authorities are concerned that infection rates are not falling quickly enough and worried about the new, more transmissible variant first detected in the UK.

“Almost everybody will understand that there was no other choice,” Mr Rutte said.

He said the lockdown would last until February 9.

Under the restrictions, all schools and non-essential shops are closed, along with cinemas, museums and libraries. There also are strict limits on the size of gatherings indoors and outside.

Mr Rutte said that pupils preparing for final high school exams and vulnerable children, who are still allowed to attend schools, must stay at least 1.5 metres apart where possible.

He said the government asked health authorities for advice about whether a curfew would help to drive down infection rates.

The government has so far avoided imposing the measure during the pandemic.

“We are in a serious new situation,” Mr Rutte said of soaring infections in Britain.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said that the variant now made up between 2 and 5 per cent of Dutch infections.

“The expectation is that it will, just as in England, get the upper hand,” Mr de Jonge said.

Earlier, the Dutch public health institute announced that the number of new coronavirus infections in the country had fallen for the second week in a row.

It said the decrease was “the first effect” of the nationwide lockdown that began in mid-December.

Confirmed new Covid-19 infections over the past week fell 12 per cent to 49,398, the institute said.

Hospital admissions for people with the coronavirus fell 18 per cent and new Covid-19 patients in intensive care units declined by 12 per cent.

The overall Dutch death toll from Covid-19 is now more than 12,500.

On Wednesday, a mass testing programme will start in a municipality just outside Rotterdam, the country’s second-most populous city, after a cluster of Covid-19 infections linked to an elementary school included at least 30 cases of the new variant.

Last week, the Netherlands became the last EU country to begin vaccinations against Covid-19, with front-line hospital staff and carers for vulnerable members of society the first to receive shots.