Dutch leader announces tough new nationwide virus lockdown

“The Netherlands for five weeks is going into lockdown,” a somber Mark Rutte said in a televised address to the nation. As Rutte spoke from his office in The Hague, protesters could be heard blowing whistles outside.

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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte

AP

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte imposed a tough new nationwide lockdown Monday, saying schools, nonessential shops, museums and gyms will close down at midnight until Jan. 19.

“The Netherlands for five weeks is going into lockdown,” a somber Rutte said in a televised address to the nation.

As Rutte spoke from his office in The Hague, protesters could be heard blowing whistles outside.

As news of the looming lockdown leaked out before Rutte’s speech, many people keen to take their last chance at Christmas shopping flocked into city centers.

Queues formed Monday afternoon at shops, museums and even pot-selling coffee shops as people tried to beat the lockdown announcement.

Shoppers didn’t wait for the announcement and headed into cities Monday in a bid to beat the lockdown, with lines forming outside stores, museums and even pot-selling coffeeshops.

“It’s ridiculous at the moment,” said Bart van der Wal at the Tweede Kamer coffeeshop in a narrow alley near Amsterdam’s famous canals, where clients were queueing around the corner. “Everybody thinks the coffeeshops will be closed tomorrow.”

Van der Wal said he hoped coffeeshops would be allowed to stay open for takeaways “because otherwise people will deal on the street.”

Bars and restaurants have been closed since mid-October, although many restaurants, cafes and coffeeshops have offered takeout sales. The partial lockdown initially slowed high infection rates, but they have been rising again in recent days.

The 7-day rolling average of daily new cases in Netherlands has risen over the past two weeks from 29.22 new cases per 100,000 people on Nov. 29 to 47.47 per 100,000 people on Dec. 13.

“It’s serious. It’s very serious,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said Monday ahead of a Cabinet meeting to discuss action to rein in the spread of the virus. “We see the infection numbers rising sharply in recent days, we see that hospital admissions are increasing again, the pressure on the health care sector remains high.”

Rutte’s speech Monday evening comes a day after neighboring Germany announced similar coronavirus restrictions in an attempt to reduce its stubbornly high infection rates. Those measures also go well into January.

Some 10,000 people in the Netherlands are confirmed to have died of COVID-19 since the start of the outbreak.

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