The Netherlands will go into ‘partial lockdown’ shutting down bars, restaurants and cafes for two weeks and ban alcohol sales after 8pm to get a grip on a spiralling outbreak of Covid-19.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced the new measures on Tuesday, which also make the wearing of masks mandatory indoors for people ages 13 and over.
The new measures come as as daily cases rose to a record of nearly 7,400 today, and after Holland long refused to make the wearing of masks compulsory.
Meanwhile bars and restaurants will reportedly close across the whole of Spain’s Catalonia region till the end of the month.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, pictured today during a televised press conference, has announced a two-week partial lockdown and the mandatory wearing of face masks indoors for people 13 and over in a bid to get coronavirus cases under control in the Netherlands
Rutte said: ‘We are going into a partial lockdown. It hurts but it’s the only way, we have to be stricter. If we do all of this, we can quickly return to a more normal life.’
Also among the new measures, team sports for over 18s are banned, while people are now limited to having three visitors at their home per day.
The rules will take effect at 10pm (8pm GMT) Wednesday and will last for an initial period of two weeks, when the government will review whether they have halted the spread of the virus.
The Dutch government for months opted for what Rutte called an ‘intelligent lockdown’ policy that was far more relaxed than its European neighbours.
But it has scrambled to control the second wave of the disease.
A huge spike in Dutch virus cases has catapulted the Netherlands into the world’s top 10 countries by infection rate, with ministers struggling to get a grip on the outbreak
Deaths have also increased since the low point of the summer, although like in most of Europe they have yet to reach the levels of the spring
The Netherlands currently has the third highest rate of new infections per 100,000 people in Europe over the last 14 days, behind only the Czech Republic and Belgium, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
The new steps largely target the catering and entertainments industry where the government says the disease is spreading.
Restaurants and cafes will close for everything except takeaway, as will the Netherlands’ famous ‘coffee shops’ that sell cannabis.
‘No more alcohol or soft drugs will be sold or delivered between 8:00pm and 7:00am,’ the government’s new regulations say, while public consumption of either is also banned during those hours.
The Netherlands has also lagged behind other European countries in ordering the wearing of masks, but Rutte said he wanted to ‘settle a lingering discussion once and for all’.
The Dutch government gave ‘urgent advice’ to wear masks in its last set of measures two weeks ago, but ‘that did not provide sufficient clarity’ and many people continued to go without them, said Rutte.
Employees of a cafe in Amsterdam watch Tuesday’s broadcast of the Dutch Prime minister and Health minister’s press conference on the new measures which will see bars, cafes and restaurants close for at least two weeks
Rutte, who marks ten years in power on Wednesday, has faced growing criticism over the government’s failure to rein in coronavirus cases.
Populist opposition parties in particular have been using the Covid-19 crisis to push their case ahead of Dutch elections in March.
While some mayors had called for mandatory mask-wearing, sources said it would be ‘legally complicated’ and take weeks to introduce such a rule.
Authorities are now advising people to work from home unless ‘absolutely impossible’, warning that workplaces will be shut down for 14 days if there is an infection.
The closure of the catering industry was discussed with regional health leaders on Monday, it is believed.
In March, there were queues outside the cannabis cafes after the government announced a closure, before partly backtracking.
Dutch PM Mark Rutte and health minister Hugo de Jonge are expected to unveil the new rules in a press conference on Tuesday evening.
Cafes such as this one in Amsterdam will have to close for at least two weeks under government plans to unveiled on Tuesday
In Catalonia the drastic measure was being taken to avoid a repeat of the emergency lockdown currently in place in Madrid.
It said the regional government called the Generalitat would announce the move at a press conference tomorrow/on Wednesday.
If confirmed it would be the first time bars and restaurants have had to close across the region since the three-month state of emergency which began in Spain in mid-March.
They would be allowed to serve only take-away food and not meals or drinks to consume at the premises. There has been no official comment yet from the Generalitat.
It had been widely reported earlier in the day the closure of bars and restaurants was an option on the table due to be discussed at a meeting with representatives of those affected.
Non-professional sports competitions are also being suspended for 15 days in the region.
The decision was taken after regional health chiefs put the increase in the number of Covid-19 cases for next week at 30 per cent.
The number of new cases confirmed in Catalonia today/yesterday (TUE) was 1,280, taking the total so far to 187,574.
Health chiefs said 14 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the total since the start of the pandemia to 13,513.
Spain’s socialist-led government declared a state of emergency on Friday to keep Madrid in partial lockdown after its right-wing regional government rejected the move and a court order overturned the original central government lockdown order.
While Holland had brought the first wave under control by the summer, a surge of more than 60,000 cases in the last two weeks has catapulted its infection rate into the top 10 in the world, with a test-and-trace plan failing to contain the outbreak.
The Netherlands has seen 174,450 cases and 6,368 deaths in total.
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte (pictured in Brussels earlier this month) previously insisted he did not want to make masks compulsory
After the first wave of infections waned in May, the Netherlands worked to boost testing capacity, promising that screening would be available to everyone.
Laboratories said they had increased capacity by two-thirds to 51,000 tests per day under a strategy to stamp out hotspots when they sprung up.
But last month, tests were again limited to people with serious health issues, and Rutte acknowledged capacity was far below demand.
‘We don’t have our basic infrastructure in order’, public health professor Jochen Mierau said.
‘There is a shortage of tests, while Germany has more than enough to even test people without symptoms.’
In addition, while masks have been mandatory in German shops since the summer, the Dutch government has only been advising them indoors since last week.
Rutte has repeatedly said he has no intention of forcing people to wear a mask – which the World Health Organization calls one of the key tools to stop the virus.
The Netherlands’ top medical official has publicly repeated his assertion that their usefulness is unproven.
‘Why would we need to force people? What kind of childish nation would that make us? We’ll look at it if we have to, but I’d regret it,’ Rutte said last week.
He held out hope that the new guidance on masks and earlier closing hours for bars would prove their value.
‘The numbers don’t look good,’ he said, ‘but we can’t see the effects of the new measures until at least this weekend.’
A national poll showed two-thirds of people saying that Rutte, who is facing an election in March, should get tougher.