A partial lockdown has come into force in the Netherlands, amid record Covid cases and concerns over the potentially more infectious new Omicron variant.
For at least the next three weeks, hospitality and cultural venues such as cafes, museums, and cinemas must close by 17:00 local time (16:00 GMT).
The authorities consider the measures critical to protect the country’s hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
Dutch hospitals were instructed on Friday to postpone all non-emergency operations to free up beds in intensive care units. Some patients have been transferred to neighbouring Germany.
Meanwhile, Dutch health authorities said on Saturday they had detected 61 COVID-19 cases among people who flew from South Africa on Friday and believe at least some infections are of the new omicron variant.
The cases were discovered among 624 passengers who arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on two flights on Friday before the Dutch government restricted air traffic from southern Africa due to concerns over the variant.
They all have recently arrived on two KLM flights from South Africa, where Omicron was detected earlier this month.
Some experts had argued that a short, near-total lockdown, including school closures, would be needed to push infections down.
Law enforcement officials were preparing for possible unrest after a demonstration in The Hague on Friday to protest against the new measures.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said variant is “of concern”, with early evidence suggesting a higher re-infection risk.
A number of countries around the world have now banned flights to and from South Africa and several neighbouring nations.
Photo – Diners leave as a restaurant closes at 8 p.m. in Haarlem, the Netherlands, 27 November 2021. The Dutch government has tightened Covid-19 restrictions further with measures including an even earlier closure of the catering industry. EPA-EFE/Olaf Kraak