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World

Dutch expected to ease lockdown slightly despite rising infections

  • New coronavirus cases increased 19% to 29,997 in the week through Tuesday, the Dutch Institute for Public Health RIVM said, as new mutations continued to take hold.
  • "Infections would have been much higher at this stage of the epidemic without the current measures", the RIVM said.
23 Feb 2021

AMSTERDAM: The Netherlands is expected to announce a slight easing of COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday, allowing schools and hairdressers to reopen, as the government seeks to relieve months of lockdown even as infection rates rise again.

A controversial night-time curfew will remain in place, broadcaster RTL said citing government sources, as health experts warn of a new wave of infections due to the rise of more contagious variants of the virus.

New coronavirus cases increased 19% to 29,997 in the week through Tuesday, the Dutch Institute for Public Health RIVM said, as new mutations continued to take hold.

The RIVM said options to ease the lockdown were very limited, as the infection rate could easily jump with a looser policy.

"Infections would have been much higher at this stage of the epidemic without the current measures", the RIVM said.

It estimated that the curfew and a one visitor per household rule had reduced the reproduction rate by around 10% in recent weeks.

But with general elections only three weeks away, pressure on Prime Minister Mark Rutte's government to open up the country has increased markedly in recent weeks.

An opinion poll earlier this week showed 45% of all Dutch wanted the lockdown to be eased, up from only 21% at the end of January, while restaurant and bar owners on Monday said they would sue the state over its policies.

The government was last week ordered by a court to immediately drop the 9:00 P.M. to 4:30 A.M. curfew as it was seen to lack a proper legal base, but circumvented the verdict by drafting a new law which kept it in place.

All schools and non-essential stores in the Netherlands were closed mid-December as coronavirus infections reached record heights on a daily basis, following the shutdown of bars and restaurants two months earlier.

In a first step towards easing the lockdown, primary schools and daycare centers were allowed to reopen earlier this month.

The total number of confirmed infections in the Netherlands since the start of the pandemic surpassed 1 million this month, with more than 15,000 related deaths.