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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Netherlands reintroduces lockdown from COVID-19, citing the spread of Omicron

LONDON. Officials have proposed reintroducing tougher measures in various European countries, citing a new wave of COVID-19 infections triggered by the Omicron variant when the Netherlands imposed nationwide isolation.

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

Residents will only be allowed two visitors, with the exception of Christmas and New Years, when four will be allowed, Rutte said.

“From tomorrow the Netherlands will be closed again,” he said, adding that the move “is inevitable due to the fifth wave caused by the omicron variant hanging over us.”

At the start of Saturday, shoppers, fearing the worst, rushed to the shopping districts of Dutch cities, thinking this might be their last chance to buy Christmas gifts.

Netherlands
People shop for their Christmas shopping ahead of the Dutch government’s pending announcement of a “strict” Christmas quarantine to contain the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in downtown Nijmegen, Netherlands, December 18, 2021 (Piroschka van de Wouw / Reuters)

The Municipality of Rotterdam tweeted that it is “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 is busy and urged people to stick to coronavirus rules.

“I can hear the sighs of all the Netherlands,” Rutte said in his quarantine notice. “All this is exactly one week before Christmas. Another Christmas that is completely different from what we want. Again, very bad news for all those businesses and cultural institutions that rely on the holidays. “

The head of the Dutch Institute of Public Health, Jaap van Dissel, described the closure as a preventative step that “buys time” for more people to receive booster vaccines and for the national health system to prepare for a possible new spike in infections.

Travel restrictions are tightening in other countries

It was not only the Dutch who tried to slow down the spread of the omicron. The ministers of France, Cyprus and Austria have tightened travel restrictions. Paris canceled New Year’s fireworks. Denmark has closed theaters, concert halls, amusement parks and museums. Ireland has imposed a 20:00 curfew in pubs and bars and limited attendance at indoor and outdoor events.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan highlighted official concerns about climbing incidents and their potential health risks by announcing a serious incident on Saturday, allowing local councils in the UK capital to coordinate more closely with emergency services.

Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin, in an address to the nation, said new restrictions are needed to protect lives and livelihoods from the resurgent virus.

“It’s not easy,” Martin said Friday night. “We are all tired of COVID and the restrictions it demands. Twists and turns, frustrations and disappointments weigh heavily on everyone. But this is the reality we are dealing with. “

The World Health Organization said on Saturday that the omicronic variant of the coronavirus has been detected in 89 countries, and the cases of COVID-19 associated with this variant double every 1.5-3 days in places with transmission from the population, not just infections transmitted abroad.

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Basic questions about the omicron remain unanswered, according to the WHO, including how effective the current COVID-19 vaccines are against it and whether the option causes severe illness in many infected people.

However, the omicron’s “significant growth advantage” over the delta variant means it is likely to soon surpass delta as the dominant form of the virus in countries where the new variant is spreading locally, the UN health agency said.

In the UK, where the number of confirmed daily cases of the disease surged to record numbers this week, the government reintroduced the indoor mask requirement and ordered people to show proof of vaccinations or recent coronavirus test negative when visiting nightclubs and at major events.

The actions sparked anger.

Critics of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s latest coronavirus restrictions flooded Oxford Street, London’s popular shopping district, on Saturday. The protesters whistled and shouted “Freedom!” and told the passers-by to take off their masks.

Hundreds of people blocked the movement, marching with signs such as “Vaccine passports are killing our freedoms” and “Do not obey.” Other signs bore the faces of Johnson or UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid and read “Give them boots.”

The UK and other countries are also accelerating the rate of revaccinations after early data showed that two doses of the vaccine were less effective against the omicron variant. Shopping malls, cathedrals and football stadiums in the UK have been converted to mass vaccination centers.

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

The mayor said during a visit to a pop-up mass vaccination clinic at the stadium of London’s Chelsea football team that the Omicron option could hinder the provision of public services, from ambulances to police calls.

“The big question we have is the number of Londoners who have this virus, and this leads to big problems with the lack of staff and the ability of our government services to operate at an optimal level,” Khan told the BBC …

In France, the government announced that it will begin vaccinating children in the 5-11 age group starting Wednesday.

Prime Minister Jean Casteks said Friday that with the omicron variant spreading like “lightning,” the government has proposed requiring proof of vaccination from anyone entering restaurants, cafes and other public places. The action requires parliamentary approval.

Thousands of opponents of the requirements for vaccines and masks protested on Saturday in Hamburg, Berlin, Dusseldorf and other cities in Germany. In Austria, local media reported that crowds reached tens of thousands.

Written by Danica Kirk and Mike Corder

Associated Press

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