AMSTERDAM — The Netherlands — the first European country to go into lockdown as the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus spread to Europe — will partially reopen on Saturday.
“We are entering into a new phase of the pandemic … The Omicron variant has caused an unprecedented surge in infections,” new Health Minister Ernst Kuipers said at a press conference Friday, adding that despite the rise in cases, “we are carefully taking steps to reopen the country in some ways.”
The country will relax some of its measures with all non-essential stores and contact professions such as hairdressers allowed to be open until 5 a.m., after having been fully shuttered since December 19. Restaurants and bars, however, will have to stay closed.
Universities and vocational colleges will be allowed to reopen their doors.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Kuipers warned, however, that the relaxation of measures will inevitably result in a jump in the number of infections, leading the latter to emphasize the importance of wearing face masks and for people to get the booster jab.
“Even with the current package of relaxations our models show that we will reach an infection rate of some 80,000 positive cases daily,” Rutte said. The RIVM agency for infectious diseases has reported an average of 31,207 daily positive cases over the last seven days in a country of some 17.5 million.
Support for the lockdown measures has visibly decreased in recent weeks, with several non-compliance protests from shopkeepers. Many retailers became increasingly disgruntled because of so-called border-hoppers — Dutch residents evading lockdown measures by visiting stores and restaurants in neighboring Germany and Belgium.
Rutte said that a long-term plan for the country’s COVID-19 strategy will be revealed next month, to which Kuipers added: “We hope to reach a situation wherein we no longer need to close sectors which we have just reopened.”
The government will reconvene to discuss further relaxations on January 25.