Dutch to go into Christmas 'lockdown' to stop Omicron

The Hague (AFP) – The Netherlands will go into "lockdown" over the Christmas period to try to stop a surge of the Omicron coronavirus variant, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Saturday.


All non-essential shops, restaurants, bars, cinemas, museums and theatres must shut from Sunday until January 14, while schools must close until at least January 9, Rutte said.

The number of guests that people are allowed in their house is also being cut from four to two, except for Christmas Day on December 25.

"I stand here tonight in a sombre mood," Rutte told a televised press conference.

"To sum it up in one sentence, the Netherlands will go back into lockdown from tomorrow.

"It is inevitable with the fifth wave and with Omicron spreading even faster than we had feared. We must now intervene as a precaution."

The head of the Dutch outbreak management team, Jaap van Dissel, said the Omicron strain would soon overtake the Delta variant.

"Between Christmas and the turn of the year the Omicron variant will become dominant," van Dissel told the news conference.

"We know that the variant can outflank built-up defences from previous infections or previous vaccinations, especially if that was some time ago."

'Cause for concern'

Rutte's announcement came after an emergency cabinet meeting, and just four days after the government extended its previous measures and announced that schools would start their holidays earlier.

Long queues developed outside shops earlier Saturday as people rushed to do last-minute Christmas shopping as reports of the new measures emerged.

"It's too busy, but I'm coming before the Christmas holidays to pick up gifts, it seems like a new lockdown is coming," Ayman Massori, 19, told AFP in The Hague.

The Dutch Covid restrictions have led to a 21-percent decline in infections in the week from December 7-14, according to official health authority data.

Shoppers were out in force Saturday in anticipation of the announcement
Shoppers were out in force Saturday in anticipation of the announcement Marco de Swart ANP/AFP

The Netherlands also recorded a "slight decline" in hospital admissions, but authorities insisted that Omicron was still "a cause for concern".

Nearly 86 percent of all adults in the Netherlands have been vaccinated.

But the Dutch booster campaign has been slow to get off the ground, and Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said all over 18s would now get an invitation by January 7.

The Netherlands relaxed most social distancing measures in September, but by November infections were back up to record levels of more than 20,000 a day.

The restrictions have been unpopular, with riots breaking out in Rotterdam, The Hague and other cities in late November.