A desperate Dutch government, besieged by massive anti-mandate protests on one side and soaring COVID cases on the other, has ordered the night-time closure of bars, restaurants and most stores.
With the record-breaking wave of locally transmitted COVID-19 infections running at an average of 20,000 cases per day, health authorities say the country’s healthcare system is on the verge of being swamped.
The Netherlands surge, the worst in Western Europe, came even though 85 per cent of the adult population has been vaccinated.
“The (infection) numbers per day are high, higher, highest,” caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte said at a televised press conference.
“That means that we can’t get there with just a few small adjustments.”
COVID’s return in strength to the Netherlands has left the government with few remaining weapons in its anti-viral arsenal – and a public rapidly losing faith in official assurances that health authorities have a solution.
As elsewhere in the world, mass vaccinations were promoted as the assured path to the longed for ‘return to normal’, but public faith is waning as daily infection numbers dwarf those of the pandemic’s first wave and former restrictions on normal life are reintroduced.
Restrictions including the reintroduction of face masks and closure of bars and restaurants after 8pm are now in force, with non-essential stores soon to be shuttered between 5pm to 5am.
Masks will also be a compulsory part of the uniform for all secondary school students.
Mr Rutte’s government urged everyone who can to work from home, and if they cannot, to follow social distancing guidelines.
The new measures go into effect from November 28.
Some experts had argued a short, near-total lockdown, including school closures, would be needed to push down infections.
Law enforcement officials were preparing for possible unrest after a demonstration in The Hague on Friday to protest against the new measures.
A government proposal – which is not yet policy – to bar unvaccinated people from public places prompted three nights of rioting last weekend.
Dutch hospitals were instructed on Friday to postpone all non-emergency operations to free up beds in intensive care units.
Some patients have been transferred to neighbouring Germany.