Covid-19: Netherlands imposes curfews for first time since second World War

Rare cross-party agreement for tighter restrictions as new strains drive third wave

Law enforcement officers walk through the centre of Utrecht, the Netherlands, on Thursday. Latest figures showed 5,857 new cases of Covid-19 over the 24 hours to Thursday morning, a rise of 260. Photograph: Jeroen Jumelet/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Law enforcement officers walk through the centre of Utrecht, the Netherlands, on Thursday. Latest figures showed 5,857 new cases of Covid-19 over the 24 hours to Thursday morning, a rise of 260. Photograph: Jeroen Jumelet/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

 

In a dramatic tightening of Covid-19 restrictions, nightly curfews are being imposed in the Netherlands for the first time since the second World War in a bid to stave off a third wave of the virus driven by new strains.

The curfew comes into force for the first time between 9pm on Saturday and 4.30am on Sunday and will continue every night until at least February 9th. Only key workers such as emergency personnel will be allowed on the streets, and anyone flouting the law will face a €95 fine.

The move has been in prospect since mid-January but was overshadowed by the collapse of the Mark Rutte-led coalition government a week ago, and then delayed briefly to allow for an urgent day-long debate in parliament on Thursday, after which it was voted through.

In rare scenes of cross-party agreement – particularly since the acrimonious child benefits row that brought down the government – the four coalition parties were joined by the opposition Socialists, Labour, GreenLeft and 50Plus in pushing through the legislation, unprecedented in peacetime.

The two far-right parties, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party and the Forum for Democracy, voted against the measure on the grounds that it represented “an excessive restriction of civil liberties” and were joined by the Christian fundamentalist SGP, immigrant party Think and the Party for the Animals.

Mr Wilders criticised the government for not tightening restrictions more quickly, especially in the run-up to Christmas, and said Mr Rutte, now caretaker premier, was “making the public bleed for his own failure” to successfully tackle the spread of the virus.

‘Undesirable but essential’

Mr Rutte responded by declaring that the curfew was “undesirable but essential”.

“We are getting out from under this but we have to brace ourselves for the more contagious variants that are coming our way,” he said. “The experts are warning of a third wave and we have to take that seriously and be ready.”

As Mr Rutte noted, infections in the Netherlands have been falling slowly for the past three weeks. However, latest figures still showed 5,857 new cases over the 24 hours to Thursday morning, a rise of 260 – evidence, say the experts, that the second lockdown has not had enough impact.

As the country prepares for its first curfew, the sense of a society on a wartime footing was underpinned by the announcement that the national carrier, KLM, was halting all long-haul flights and some European flights to selected destinations from Friday.

There will also be new requirements for passengers arriving by air and sea. Up to now they have needed proof of a negative test within 72 hours of travel. They will now also need proof of a second negative test just before departure.