The caretaker Dutch government has extended the country’s second lockdown and the overnight curfew that led to riots earlier in the year – warning that a third wave of coronavirus is now “visible” in the highest level of new infections since mid-January.
At their regular briefing, however, acting premier Mark Rutte and health minister Hugo de Jonge did announce one slight concession to anti-lockdown campaigners: the curfew will start one hour later, at 10pm, from March 31st, after clocks move to daylight saving time next Sunday.
"The emergence of the third wave here in the Netherlands resembles what we're seeing in neighbouring countries', said Mr Rutte, fresh from last week's general election win. "That's why the current restrictions are being extended. We're all in this together."
The curfew in particular remains a highly sensitive issue. On Saturday and Sunday, riot police in Amsterdam used water canon to disperse protesters at illegal rallies who chanted the slogan, “love, freedom, no dictatorship”. There were scores of arrests for breaching social distancing restrictions.
Separately, Rotterdam's mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb warned that the curfew would make it particularly difficult for Muslims to mark Ramadan, which starts mid-April and which features family-orientated evening meals.
“Let’s hope we can have more easing around that time,” he said.
In a rapid response, a spokesperson for Liveable Rotterdam, the right-wing party founded by the late Pim Fortuyn, tweeted: "An absurd statement by the mayor – and a slap in the face if you weren't able to celebrate Christmas with your family."
Only last Friday, Sigrid Kaag, leader of D66, Mr Rutte's centrist coalition partners who took a surprise second place in the election, urged the caretaker government to end the curfew as quickly as possible, warning that brighter evenings would make it more difficult to enforce.
In common with other EU countries, new coronavirus cases are rising – up 16 per cent to 46,005 over the week to Tuesday, the fastest growth since mid-January, according to the public health inspectorate.
Such figures, said Mr Rutte, combined with research showing that fewer than half of those with possible coronavirus symptoms were staying at home, meant the situation was too unstable to indicate now what the position might be on summer holiday travel.
In the interim, he said, the caretaker government was extending its advice not to travel abroad until May 15th at the earliest – and that included during school holidays next month.
The Netherlands has struggled to get a mass vaccination campaign under way, further hindered by the AstraZeneca controversy.
In an attempt to regain ground, however, Mr de Jonge said that by May 15th everyone over the age of 60 should have had their first jab.