Partial lockdown returns in Netherlands

Partial lockdown returns in Netherlands

Partial lockdown returns in Netherlands

Austria ready to order all unvaccinated people to stay home as Covid surges across Europe again

Nursing staff assist a Covid patient in the nursing department of Maastricht UMC in the Netherlands on Wednesday. (AFP Photo)
Nursing staff assist a Covid patient in the nursing department of Maastricht UMC in the Netherlands on Wednesday. (AFP Photo)

AMSTERDAM: Bars and restaurants in the Netherlands will close early and sporting events will be held without fans under a three-week, partial lockdown expected to be announced in the Netherlands later on Friday.

The development comes as coronavirus cases continue to surge in Europe as it heads into the winter, making it once more the “epicentre” of the virus, the World Health Organization has warned.

Germany has said there are no signs that its fourth Covid wave will ease anytime soon, Norway is reintroducing local restrictions including the use of health passes, and Austria is considering ordering all unvaccinated people to stay home.

The Dutch broadcaster NOS said the first lockdown measures in Western Europe since the summer would go into effect on Saturday evening in a bid to stop a surge in Covid cases, which hit a record on Thursday.

People will be urged to work from home as much as possible, and no fans will be allowed at sporting events , including top-level football matches. Schools, theatres and cinemas would remain open.

Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s cabinet was reviewing the measures at a cabinet meeting on Friday, and a televised news conference was scheduled to follow around 6pm local time.

It was unclear, however, whether the government would adopt a politically sensitive recommendation by its pandemic advisory panel to limit access to public places to people who have been fully vaccinated or have had Covid after the lockdown period.

New coronavirus infections in the country of 17.5 million have increased rapidly after social distancing measures were dropped in late September. They hit a record of 16,300 in 24 hours on Thursday.

The new wave of infections has put pressure on hospitals throughout the country, forcing them to scale back regular care again to treat Covid-19 patients.

A new lockdown would mean a drastic turn in policy for the Dutch government, which until last month thought that a relatively high vaccination rate would mean it could further ease measures toward the end of the year.

Around 85% of the adult Dutch population has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Booster shots have so far only been provided to a small group of people with weak immune systems, and will be offered to people aged 80 years and older in December.

The Netherlands is not alone in considering strict, even drastic measures. Austria said on Thursday it was days away from placing millions of unvaccinated people in lockdown.

The government is likely to decide on Sunday to impose a lockdown on people who have not been vaccinated, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said on Friday.

Schallenberg did not say when the lockdown would take effect, but the two provinces hardest-hit by the latest wave of infections, Upper Austria and Salzburg, have said they would introduce the measure for themselves on Monday.

Roughly 65% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated against Covid, one of the lowest rates in western Europe. Many Austrians are sceptical about vaccines, a view encouraged by the far-right Freedom Party, the third-biggest in parliament.

“The aim is very clear: that we give the green light this Sunday for a nationwide lockdown for the unvaccinated,” Schallenberg told a news conference, adding that intensive-care units are increasingly strained.

Schallenberg said on Thursday those not fully vaccinated would face the same restrictions on their daily movements that the whole country endured in three lockdowns last year. He says he wants to avoid a repeat of such restrictions on the whole population. 

Norway, meanwhile, will reintroduce nationwide measures, including authorising towns to use health passes, the government announced on Friday.

The Nordic country, which had lifted all Covid restrictions in late September, will also propose a third vaccine dose for people over 18 but will not impose a new lockdown, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store told a news conference.

“The government wants to introduce new national measures to contain contagions,” he said. “However, we are not talking about confinements or measures as strict as we saw earlier in the pandemic.”

The new measures include a requirement for adults who have been in contact with a positive case to be tested, and unvaccinated health workers will have to be tested twice a week and wear masks.

Local restrictions had reappeared in recent days in Norway, with daily cases at around 1,500 in a country of 5.4 million people.

In Germany, the fourth wave of infections is hitting Europe’s biggest economy with full force and there’s no sign of record infection rates easing anytime soon, according to top health officials.

Some hospitals are already overwhelmed with patients, and efforts to speed up vaccinations won’t bring relief for weeks at the earliest, Lothar Wieler, the head of the RKI public-health institute, said on Friday in Berlin.

“The situation is serious,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said at a news conference with Wieler.

The number of new cases in Germany jumped by 48,640 and the seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 people climbed to a record 263.7, according to the latest daily data from the RKI public-health institute.

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