Netherlands eases Covid curbs despite record cases - RTHK
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Netherlands eases Covid curbs despite record cases

2022-01-15 HKT 03:34
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  • People head to bars in the Dutch city of Valkenburg. Catering businesses have reopened with the support of the local mayor, in defiance of national rules. Photo: AP
    People head to bars in the Dutch city of Valkenburg. Catering businesses have reopened with the support of the local mayor, in defiance of national rules. Photo: AP
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Friday announced the reopening of stores, hairdressers and gyms, partially lifting a lockdown despite record numbers of new Covid-19 cases.

"We are taking a big step and that also means we're taking a big risk," Rutte told a televised press conference. Non-essential stores, hairdressers, beauty salons and other service providers will be allowed to reopen under strict conditions until 5 pm local time for the first time since mid-December.

Rutte added that the uncertainties meant that bars, restaurants and cultural venues would have to remain closed until at least January 25.

Earlier on Friday restaurants in one Dutch city reopened on and others said they would open on Saturday regardless of government plans as popular support for the month-long lockdown evaporates despite the strain on hospitals and record new infections.

"We are taking a calculated risk because we have to. Lockdowns are very hard on everyone and keeping everything closed is also bad for our health," Health Minister Ernst Kuipers said.

Rutte's government ordered the lockdown in mid-December as a wave of the Delta variant forced the health system to cancel all but the most urgent care and it appeared rising Omicron cases would overwhelm it.

On Friday the Netherlands Institute for Health (RIVM) announced a record high of more than 35,000 infections in 24 hours. Infections have continued to rise despite the lockdown, which bans all public gatherings, with a record of more than 200,000 in the week through January 11.

But hospital admissions declined slightly.

A poll by Hart van Nederland published on Friday found that 89 percent of people supported reopening stores and a majority also support reopening restaurants and cultural institutions.

More than 86 percent of Dutch adults are fully vaccinated and nearly 50 percent received a booster shot in a major campaign during the lockdown.

In the southern city of Valkenburg, restaurants opened on Friday in defiance of the rules and with support from the city's mayor, and 15 other municipalities said they would follow suit on Saturday. (Reuters)