The Dutch government has extended its strict Covid-19 lockdown measures by three weeks until February 9 amid growing concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus strain.
“We have no other choice,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte at a press conference here on Tuesday, Xinhua news agency reported.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) reported a decline in the number of weekly Covid-19 infections in the country for the second week in a row.
The number of reported positive tests dropped from 56,440 in the week of December 30 to January 5 to 49,398 in the week of January 6 to January 12. The number of deaths rose from 621 to 743 in the same period.
For the first time since early December, the number of daily infections remained below 5,000.
“The numbers are not falling fast enough, and we are dealing with the threat of the variant” which was discovered in Britain, Rutte said.
“The images from London and Ireland are alarming.”
Last week, the RIVM reported nearly 50 cases of the new virus variant in the Netherlands.
“What we know now is that between two and five percent of our new infections is the variant,” Minister of Health Hugo de Jonge said.
“I expect that the variant will also prevail in our country, just as it does in England. It can get worse very quickly.”
The Netherlands has been in a strict lockdown since December 15. Schools, childcare facilities, non-essential shops, bars and restaurants are all closed.
Rutte said that primary schools and childcare centers can reopen on January 25 if infection numbers continued to fall. Meanwhile, the government considers the introduction of a curfew as an additional restrictive measure.
Last Wednesday, the Netherlands was one of the last countries in Europe to begin vaccinating people against the novel coronavirus. Nursing home and health care staff were the first to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. “Now we have around 45,000 people vaccinated,” Minister De Jonge said.
“With the vaccine, there is light at the end of the tunnel, but it will take months,” said Rutte. “We have to hold on, although I know it is very tough.”