AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Dutch government said on Tuesday it would extend lockdown measures, including the closure of schools and shops, by at least three weeks to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a live news conference that social curbs must remain in place until at least Feb.9, adding: “This decision does not come as a surprise, but it is an incredible disappointment.”
Rutte also cited the threat posed by a much more easily transmissable variant of the disease first identified in Britain, describing it as “very, very worrying”.
He said the government was considering imposing a curfew, but was reluctant and had sought outside advice before deciding on such severe restrictions.
All schools and many shops across the Netherlands were shut in mid-December, following the closure of all bars and restaurants two months earlier.
Coronavirus infections in the Netherlands declined by 12% in the week to Tuesday, to 49,398, health authorities said, marking the second consecutive week in which cases fell.
Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said the new British variant of the virus currently made up 2-5% of infections in the Netherlands, but was expected to “gain the upper hand”.
Although the overall infection rate has dropped, the number of new daily cases remains too high to consider any easing of restrictions, Rutte said.
Last Wednesday a Dutch nurse became the first person in the Netherlands to receive a COVID-19 shot as the European Union’s last national vaccination programme got off to a late start.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Bart Meijer; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Gareth Jones)