Dutch PM Rutte confirms lockdown to last until at least March

FILE PHOTO: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte leaves the Royal Palace, in The Hague, Netherlands January 15, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Tuesday that most of the lockdown measures in the Netherlands, many of which have been in place since October, will remain in place for weeks due to fears over a surge in cases as a result of variant strains.

Rutte’s government is still weighing whether to continue an evening curfew that has triggered rioting in some Dutch cities beyond next week, the prime minister told a press briefing.

The government announced earlier this week that primary schools and daycares will reopen on Feb. 8, adding that it is also looking at possibly reopening secondary schools but that will not happen before March.

“It is inescapable to extend the current lockdown almost entirely until at least March 2,” Rutte said, despite falling case numbers in the Netherlands.

“A third wave is inevitably coming our way,” he said, pointing to new virus strains which are more infectious.

The Netherlands has been in what the government calls a strict lockdown since mid-December and last month imposed a curfew, the country’s first since World War Two, which sparked riots.

The National Institute for Health (RIVM) said on Tuesday there had been 28,628 COVID-19 cases in the past week, down 20% from the week before and the lowest level since lockdown measures were introduced in October.

But this week’s decline “would have been greater without the new variants of the virus that have entered the Netherlands, especially the British Variant,” the RIVM said in a statement.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said on Monday that half of the cases were being caused by the new variant as of Jan. 26, up from around a third the week before. The government fears it may cause a new wave ahead of March 17 elections.

(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Chris Reese and Alexander Smith)

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