The Hague, Netherlands ( Associated Press) – Prime Minister Mark Root further eased the Netherlands’ coronavirus lockdown, allowing bars, restaurants, museums, theaters and other venues to reopen from Wednesday for the first time this year.
But Root warned that the move was not without risk.
“We are taking a big step today to unlock the Netherlands while the infection numbers are really going through the roof,” Root said on Tuesday.
The announcement was not good news for the beleaguered hospitality and cultural sectors, with opening hours limited to 10 pm, while professional sports teams will only be allowed to fill stadiums to a third of their normal capacity.
Football clubs and administrators opposed the move even before it was officially announced, calling it “a proposal without perspective” in a joint statement.
The easing of restrictions follows widespread protests in recent weeks by business owners, from the Van Gogh Museum to local cafes, which were previously excluded from the easing of pandemic restrictions.
Infections have soared in recent weeks due to the Omicron version, despite a tougher lockdown than in much of Europe, but admissions to the country’s intensive care units have declined. The National Institutes of Public Health reported a 51% increase in new COVID-19 cases over the past week to more than 366,000, while ICU admissions fell by 34%.
“We are taking another risk,” said Health Minister Ernst Kuipers. “We’re doing this for good reason. Living long enough with too many restrictive measures harms our health and our society.”
According to studies, Omicron is less likely to cause serious illness than the previous Delta version. Omicron spreads more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects people who have been vaccinated or who have previously been infected with earlier versions of the virus.
The Dutch government sought to reduce the risk by imposing restrictions on places where people gather, including the use of coronavirus passports and social distancing and limiting the number of people indoors and in stadiums.
The new measures are in place for six weeks, but Root said the government would review them and their impact on infection numbers after three weeks.
He urged the public to stick to the rules, saying: “It’s up to all of us now to make sure we don’t have to hit the brakes again.”
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