Dutch government announces nationwide lockdown amid skyrocketing Omicron

Nations across Europe have moved to reimpose tougher measures to stem a new wave of Covid-19 infections spurred by the highly transmissible variant of omicron, including a new national lockdown introduced by the Dutch government.

Schools, universities and all non-essential shops, bars and restaurants in the Netherlands will be closed until January 14 from Sunday, Acting Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Saturday evening.

Residents will only be allowed two visitors, with the exception of Christmas and New Years, where four will be allowed, he said.

“The Netherlands are stranded again from tomorrow,” said Mr Rutte, adding that the move was “inevitable due to the fifth wave caused by the Omicron variant hitting us”.

Mark Rutte (Chris J Ratcliffe / AP)

Ahead of the Dutch announcement, alarmed ministers in France, Cyprus and Austria tightened travel restrictions.

Paris has canceled its New Year’s fireworks display.

Denmark has closed theaters, concert halls, amusement parks and museums.

Ireland has imposed an 8 p.m. curfew in pubs and bars and limited participation in indoor and outdoor events.

The World Health Organization reported on Saturday that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in 89 countries, and Covid-19 cases involving the variant are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in places with community transmission and not only infections acquired abroad.

A woman crosses a canal in Amsterdam (Peter Dejong / AP)
A woman crosses a canal in Amsterdam (Peter Dejong / AP)

Major questions about Omicron remain unanswered, including how effective are existing Covid-19 vaccines against it and whether the variant produces serious illness in many infected people, the WHO noted.

Still, Omicron’s “substantial growth advantage” over the Delta variant means it is likely to soon overtake Delta as the dominant form of the virus in countries where the new variant is spreading locally, said the United Nations health agency.

In the Netherlands, the anticipation of a government meeting on Saturday would lead to tighter restrictions and shoppers have swarmed shopping areas in Dutch towns, fearing this will be their last chance to buy Christmas presents.

The Municipality of Rotterdam tweeted that it was “too busy in the center” of the port city and told people: “Don’t come to town”.

Amsterdam also warned that the city’s main shopping street was busy and urged people to follow coronavirus rules.

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