Netherlands set to announce 'strict' Christmas lockdown


The Dutch government is expected to announce on Saturday a "strict" Christmas lockdown that would see everything but essential stores close amid fears over the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, Dutch media reported.

The government is meeting on Saturday with its health experts who have recommended the closure of all non-essential shops, schools, restaurants and other public venues.

National broadcaster NOS and news agency ANP cited government sources saying a press conference announcing the new measures, which would come just days after a partial lockdown was extended, would be held at 7:00 pm (1800 GMT).

Health ministry spokesperson Axel Dees declined to comment on any proposed measures or the timing of any press conference.

On Tuesday, the government ordered that the 5:00 pm to 5:00 am closure of restaurants and most stores, introduced in late November, would continue until January 14.

Prime Mininster Mark Rutte said then that Omicron could be the dominant coronavirus variant in the Netherlands by January.

The most recent figures from the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) published on Tuesday showed 105 people infected with the variant, but experts say the actual figure is likely much higher.

On Friday, the institute reported 15,433 new COVID-19 cases, down around 25 per cent from a week earlier - but still above the peak of any previous wave.

The feared new wave of Omicron infections would further burden the country's strained healthcare system which is already postponing most routine care and cancelling all but urgent operations in order to cope with COVID-19 patients. 

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