Netherlands ‘quarantine’ to curb omicron


Two women dressed for a party take a picture of themselves outside a venue in London on Friday, December 17, 2021. During what would normally be one of the busiest times for pubs and restaurants just before Christmas, the number of customers is down in central London due to concerns over the new omicron variant. Friday night in central London was muted with a bar saying they had 30 customers inside when there should have been 170, with numerous cancellations in recent days. (AP Photo / Alastair Grant)


Nations across Europe have moved to reimpose tougher measures to stem a new wave of COVID-19 infections spurred by the highly transmissible variant of omicron, with the Netherlands leading the way in imposing a lockdown on nationwide.

All non-essential shops, bars and restaurants in the Netherlands will be closed until January 14 from Sunday, Acting Prime Minister Mark Rutte said at a hastily-organized press conference on Saturday evening. Schools and universities will close until January 9, he said.

In what is sure to prove to be a major disappointment, lockdown conditions are also holding back private holiday celebrations. Residents will only be allowed two visitors, except for Christmas and New Years, where four will be allowed, according to Rutte.

“The Netherlands will lock in again from tomorrow,” he said, adding that the move was “inevitable due to the fifth wave caused by the omicron variant hitting us”.

It was not just the Dutch who were looking to slow the spread of omicron. Alarmed ministers from France, Cyprus and Austria have tightened travel restrictions. Paris has canceled its New Year’s fireworks display. Denmark has closed theaters, concert halls, amusement parks and museums. Ireland has imposed an 8 p.m. curfew in pubs and bars and limited participation in indoor and outdoor events.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan highlighted official concern over escalating cases and their potential to overwhelm the healthcare system by declaring a major incident on Saturday, a move that allows local councils in the British capital to coordinate more closely the work with emergency services.

Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin captured the meaning of the continent in a nationwide address, saying the new restrictions were necessary to protect lives and livelihoods from the resurgent virus.

“None of this is easy,” Martin said Friday night. “We are all exhausted from COVID and the restrictions it requires. The twists and turns, disappointments and frustrations take a heavy toll on everyone. But this is the reality we are facing.

The World Health Organization reported on Saturday that the omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in 89 countries, and that COVID-19 cases involving the variant are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in places with community transmission and not just infections acquired abroad.

Major questions about omicron remain unanswered, including how effective are existing COVID-19 vaccines against it and whether the variant produces serious illness in many infected people, the WHO noted.

Still, omicron’s “substantial growth advantage” over the delta variant means it is likely to soon overtake delta as the dominant form of the virus in countries where the new variant is spreading locally, said the United Nations health agency.

In the Netherlands, worst-case shoppers swarmed shopping areas in Dutch towns earlier on Saturday, believing this could be their last chance to buy Christmas presents.

The Municipality of Rotterdam tweeted that it was “too busy in the center” of the port city and told people: “Don’t come to town”. Amsterdam also warned that the city’s main shopping street was bustling and urged people to obey coronavirus rules.

“I can hear the whole of the Netherlands sighing,” Rutte said in his lockdown announcement. “All of this, exactly one week before Christmas. Another Christmas that is completely different from what we want. Still very bad news for all those businesses and cultural institutions that rely on vacations.

The head of the Dutch public health institute, Jaap van Dissel, described the shutdown as a preventive measure that would “buy time” for more people to receive booster shots and for the country’s health system to prepare. to a possible new wave of infections.

In the UK, where daily confirmed cases hit a record high this week, the government has reimposed the requirement to wear masks indoors and ordered people to show proof of vaccination or a recent coronavirus test. negative when going to nightclubs and big events.

But the movements provoked anger.

Critics of Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s latest coronavirus restrictions flooded Oxford Street, a popular shopping area in London on Saturday. Protesters without masks whistled and shouted “Freedom! And told passers-by to remove their face covers.

Hundreds of people blocked traffic as they marched with placards bearing slogans such as “Passports for vaccines kill our freedoms” and “Do not comply”. Other signs had faces of Johnson or UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid and read: ‘Give them the boot’.

Scientists are warning the UK government it must do more to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. Leaks of minutes from the Science Advisory Panel for Emergencies suggested a ban on mixing and indoor hospitality, the BBC reported.

Britain and other countries are also stepping up the pace of booster shots after initial data showed two doses of the vaccine were less effective against the omicron variant. Shopping malls, cathedrals and football stadiums in Britain have been converted into mass vaccination centers.

Omicron is now the dominant variant of the coronavirus in London, and efforts have been stepped up to reach people who have not yet been vaccinated or boosted.

The mayor said during a visit to a mass vaccination pop-up clinic at the London Chelsea football team stadium that public services ranging from ambulances to police calls could be hampered by the rapidly spreading variant .

“The big problem we have is the number of Londoners who have this virus, and that is causing big problems in terms of staff absences and the ability of our public services to operate at optimal levels,” Khan told the BBC.

In France, the government has announced that it will start immunizing children aged 5 to 11 from Wednesday.

Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Friday that with the spread of the omicron variant such as “lightning,” the government proposed to require proof of vaccination from people entering restaurants, cafes and other public establishments. The action requires parliamentary approval.

Thousands of opponents of vaccine requirements and mask warrants demonstrated in Hamburg, Berlin, Düsseldorf and other German cities on Saturday. In Austria, local media reported that the crowd had reached tens of thousands.


Corder reported from The Hague, The Netherlands. Courtney Bonnell in London; Emily Schultheis in Vienna; and Thomas Adamson in Paris, contributed to this report.


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