The Netherlands has just gone into a month-long nationwide lockdown in response to the Omicron surge

Prime minister Mark Rutte
Prime minister Mark Rutte seen wearing a face mask during the weekly plenary debate in the Tweede Kamer parliament on December 1, 2020 in The Hague, Netherlands.
  • The Netherlands is the first EU country to reimpose a strict lockdown as Omicron cases surge.
  • Restaurants, salons, and non-essential shops closed Sunday until at least January 14.
  • The Netherlands has lagged other European countries in its booster rollout.

The Netherlands entered a nationwide lockdown on Sunday, becoming the first EU country to reimpose stringent holiday restrictions in the face of surging Omicron cases.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte on Saturday announced that restaurants, bars, non-essential shops, beauty salons, and concert venues and cinemas would all close from Sunday.

Most indoor sports facilities will close, and supermarkets and chemists remain open on restricted hours. Schools and colleges will also close until January 9. Funerals are restricted to 100 attendees or fewer.

People will be permitted to receive four visitors indoors over the Christmas period, and are otherwise restricted to a single visitor.

The wider lockdown is expected to last until at least January 22, the government said.

Rutte told reporters that the lockdown was "unavoidable."

"I can now hear the whole of the Netherlands sighing. This is exactly one week before Christmas, another Christmas that is completely different from what we would like," Rutte said on Saturday, according to the BBC.

Rutte's government has been criticized for its handling of COVID-19.

During the early stages of the pandemic, the Dutch imposed an "intelligent lockdown" that focused on shielding high-risk people while aiming for population immunity.

The Netherlands has been slower than other European nations to get its booster program going. While 85% of its population is vaccinated, 9% have received a booster shot.

In the UK, where Omicron cases are also surging, nearly half of the population over the age of 12 has received a booster dose.

The Netherlands' National Institute for Public Health on Saturday stated the country has a total of more than 2.9 million COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, with 20,420 reported deaths.

There were 14,616 confirmed cases reported in 24 hours, down from a peak of around 23,000 in late November. Omicron will likely become the dominant coronavirus variant in the Netherlands in December and January, Dutch infectious disease expert Jaap van Dissel said, according to Reuters.

Elsewhere, Germany has imposed travel restrictions on the UK. Only German citizens and residents can enter the country from the UK and must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, as of midnight on Sunday. They must also quarantine once they arrive for 14 days.

The UK has issued guidance for people work from home where possible, but has stopped short of further restrictions despite predictions that coronavirus infections could reach 2 million per day.

But the government is reportedly considering banning indoor meetings for two weeks, limiting attendees at weddings and funerals, and returning to outdoor service only at restaurants and bars, the Times of London reported Saturday, stating that the restrictions could be implemented from December 27.

Austria locked down in November, but has lifted most restrictions for vaccinated people. On Friday, its health ministry stated that travellers to the country must provide a negative COVID-19 test from December 20, if they haven't had a booster shot.

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