Coronavirus: Netherlands begins ‘hard lockdown’ as cases soar

Government left with little choice after daily rate of infections passed 10,000 on Sunday

Sparse streets in Amsterdam after a stricter lockdown was imposed. Photograph: Peter Boer/Bloomberg

Sparse streets in Amsterdam after a stricter lockdown was imposed. Photograph: Peter Boer/Bloomberg

 

The Netherlands – Europe’s most densely populated country – entered its second complete Covid-19 lockdown on Tuesday after a “partial lockdown” imposed in mid-October failed to stem a rapidly rising second wave of infections in the run-up to Christmas.

The initial restrictions in March were described by premier Mark Rutte as an “intelligent lockdown” that would depend on public co-operation. On Monday evening, however, Mr Rutte spoke only about a new “hard lockdown”, all intelligent options now apparently exhausted.

In reality the coalition government was left with no other responsible choice when, despite repeated appeals from politicians and medical experts, it saw the daily rate of new infections pass the 10,000 mark on Sunday for the second time since the pandemic began.

That was the largest single daily rise in six weeks – and came in tandem with crowded shopping streets in all the main cities, although masks have become more the norm indoors since they were belatedly made obligatory on December 1st.

In particular there was a noticeable spike in infections after the December 5th Sinterklaas celebrations, when families traditionally meet to exchange Christmas gifts.

The tough decision was made doubly inevitable when neighbouring Germany decided to lock down – raising the prospect of German visitors pouring over the border to shop.

Frustrated premier

“The Netherlands is closing down,” a clearly frustrated Mr Rutte said in a televised address, with the chants of anti-lockdown protesters clearly audible from the street outside the parliament complex.

“We realise the gravity of that decision, just before Christmas. The fact is that we’re not dealing with some innocent winter flu, as some of those protesting outside seem to believe. We are dealing with a potentially lethal virus that can reach anyone.”

The new restrictions, which will continue until at least January 19th, mean schools and non-essential shops will again close with immediate effect. Working from home again becomes the default choice.

Travel abroad has been banned until mid-March at least, and from Tuesday passengers arriving at Schiphol airport must prove that they’ve recently tested negative for the virus.

Public spaces, including libraries, museums, daycare centres and hairdressers, will close again. Cafes, restaurants and bars will remain closed. Only supermarkets, banks, pharmacies and doctors’ surgeries will stay open.

Gatherings, indoor and outdoor, will be limited to two people, although for three days at Christmas three adult visitors will be allowed to visit another household.

Mr Rutte’s broadcast was watched by more than eight million people out of a population of 17 million, and a survey later showed 49 per cent in favour of the lockdown, 34 per cent against and the rest undecided.

One newspaper suggested it gave the prime minister a unique opportunity to “campaign” well in advance of the March 17th general election.

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