Dutch PM Mark Rutte apologises for lifting Covid restrictions too soon

Many European nations consider new coronavirus measures as cases 'explode' amid spread of Delta variant

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte reimposed restrictions on bars and restaurants to halt a rise in Covid-19 infections, particularly among young people. Getty
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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has apologised for lifting coronavirus restrictions too soon after infections in the Netherlands surged to their highest levels this year fuelled by the fast-spreading Delta variant.

Only two weeks after most lockdown measures in the country were lifted, Mr Rutte reimposed restrictions on bars and restaurants to halt a rise in infections among young people.

About 6.5 million of the 17 million population are fully vaccinated against Covid, government figures show.

But Mr Rutte said it was not the right time to consider lifting restrictions.

"What we thought would be possible turned out not to be possible in practice," he said.

"We had poor judgment, which we regret and for which we apologise."

His apology marked an about-turn from his stance last week, when he repeatedly defended the earlier easing of restrictions as a "logical step" and refused to accept any blame for the rise in case numbers.

Dutch health authorities accused the government of throwing caution to the wind by encouraging young people to go out and socialise.

Coronavirus infections in the Netherlands have jumped to their highest levels of 2021 since the decision to fully reopen bars, restaurants and nightclubs two weeks ago.

A system of health checks and mandatory Covid-19 tests for entry was put in place, but it struggled to work because of the large number of people going for a night out after months of lockdown.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge gave a warning that the low level of hospital admissions could be threatened by an "unprecedented" increase in infections.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron hosted a high-level virus security meeting on Monday morning before he was due to give a televised address in the evening.

French health authorities say the fast-spreading Delta variant is on course to become the dominant strain in the country.

European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said France could reintroduce limits on the number of people allowed in bars, restaurants and other venues.

“We must live with the virus and this means we don’t close everything again and positions aren’t as hard as they used to be, because we have the vaccine,” he said.

Mr Macron is expected to announce mandatory vaccinations for health workers as well as the new restrictions on gatherings.

A number of other European countries are also being forced to reintroduce or at least consider curbs.

Portugal has broadened its night-time curfew to more municipalities.

The limits already apply in Lisbon and some locations in the southern Algarve region that are popular with tourists.

Greece’s government is expected to issue an update on its virus measures early this week, which may include new tighter social restrictions after a jump in case numbers.

In Cyprus, which is now one of Europe’s coronavirus hotspots, authorities set a limit of 50 per cent capacity at indoor venues such as theatres and cinemas.

From July 21, the capacity can increase to 75 per cent as long as patrons are fully vaccinated or were infected with Covid-19 in last six months.

Italy is considering options given its increase in case numbers. The country could elevate its risk level if the current trends continue, which would lead to tougher restrictions for bars and restaurants.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said the experience of some of Germany’s neighbours showed that infections can “quickly explode again”.

Sweden's government said on Monday it would move ahead with a planned easing of pandemic restrictions this week but warned that new variants of the virus demanded vigilance and urged people to adhere to social distancing recommendations.

Sweden has relied mainly on voluntary measures to stem the spread of infections, though curbs on opening hours for restaurants and limits on crowds at venues such as shopping malls were also put in place.

The country is set to remove limits on the number of passengers on trains and the number of shoppers allowed in shops on July 15.

"Things are steadily moving in the right direction in our country," Business and Industry Minister Ibrahim Baylan said. "Step by step, we are moving toward a society without restrictions."

Updated: July 13, 2021, 4:57 AM