By Bart H. Meijer and Anthony Deutsch
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -The Netherlands will return to a partial lockdown from Saturday after the government ordered restaurants and shops to close early and barred spectators from major sporting events in an effort to contain a rapid surge in COVID-19 cases.
Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte said restrictions that the Dutch people had thought had ended for good were being re-imposed for three weeks.
Supermarkets and non-essential retailers will also close earlier and social distancing measures will be re-imposed. The government recommended that no more than four visitors be received at home, effective immediately.
Cafes and nightclubs will have to close at 8 pm from Saturday.
“Tonight we are bringing a very unpleasant message with very unpleasant and far-reaching measures,” Rutte said in a televised address on Friday evening. “The virus is everywhere and needs to be combated everywhere.”
A group of around 100 anti-lockdown protesters gathered outside the government building in The Hague where Rutte was speaking. Several people were detained for setting off fireworks and throwing objects at the police.
The government was also exploring ways to restrict access to indoor venues for people who have not been vaccinated, a politically sensitive measure that would require parliamentary approval.
INFECTIONS AT RECORD HIGH
The measures are meant to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases that is straining hospitals across the country.
New infections topped 16,000 for the second day in a row on Friday, beating the previous record of just under 13,000 confirmed cases in a day set in December last year.
Rutte instructed people to work from home whenever possible, and said no spectators would be allowed in the coming weeks to attend sporting events, including the Dutch soccer team’s World Cup qualifier against Norway on Tuesday.
Schools, theatres and cinemas will remain open.
Friday’s announcement marked a dramatic change of policy for the Dutch government, which until last month had thought that a relatively high vaccination rate would allow it to further ease measures towards the end of the year.
Nearly 85% of the adult Dutch population has been fully vaccinated. Since the start of the pandemic, the Netherlands has recorded 2.27 million COVID-19 cases and 18,695 related deaths.
The Dutch are not alone in Europe in taking unpopular measures as infection rates spike. Austria said on Thursday it was days away https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-austria/austrian-lockdown-for-the-unvaccinated-is-days-away-chancellor-says-idINL1N2S218H from placing millions of unvaccinated people in lockdown.
(Reporting by Bart Meijer, Anthony Deutsch, Toby Sterling; Editing by Edmund Blair, Giles Elgood and Gareth Jones)