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New Dutch government expected to ease month-long COVID-19 lockdown

New Dutch government expected to ease month-long COVID-19 lockdown

FILE PHOTO: A general view of a largely deserted Dutch urban centre is seen as the country enters into its third day of lockdown, in Den Bosch, Netherlands December 21, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

AMSTERDAM: The new government of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was expected to ease a month-long COVID-19 lockdown on Friday (Jan 14), as popular support for it is evaporating despite the strain on hospitals and record new infections.

Most stores, hairdressers and gyms will be allowed to reopen, national broadcaster NOS reported, citing government sources. Restaurants are expected to remain closed except for takeaway service.

Rutte, whose cabinet was installed on Monday, is due to make a televised address to the nation at 1800 GMT.

His caretaker government ordered the lockdown in mid-December as a wave of the Delta variant forced the health system to cancel all but the most urgent care and it appeared rising Omicron cases would overwhelm it.

Infections have continued to rise despite the lockdown, which bans all public gatherings, with a record of more than 200,000 in the week through Jan 11, according to the Netherlands Institute for Health (RIVM). But hospitalisations declined slightly.

A poll by Hart van Nederland published on Friday found that 89 per cent of people supported reopening stores and majority support reopening restaurants and cultural institutions.

More than 86 per cent of Dutch adults are fully vaccinated and nearly 50 per cent received a booster shot during a major campaign during the lockdown.

Among other changes to policy expected on Friday, the incoming Health Minister Ernst Kuipers is expected to shorten the period during which people exposed to, but not infected with, the virus is obliged to quarantine.

Primary schools have been open since Jan 10 after a longer-than-planned closure for winter holidays, but classes are frequently dismissed after students or teachers are exposed.

Kuipers may also seek to expand the use of face masks. Adherence to rules, such as wearing them in grocery stores, is patchy.

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Source: Reuters/yb

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