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Netherlands eases lockdown but extends curfew through March 15

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People enjoy the sun in Vondelpark after a sudden change in weather brought spring temperatures around 16 degrees Celsius in Amsterdam, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021.
People enjoy the sun in Vondelpark after a sudden change in weather brought spring temperatures around 16 degrees Celsius in Amsterdam, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Peter Dejong
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The Netherlands' coronavirus curfew is to be extended until March 15, caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Tuesday.

Some lockdown measures will be eased, however, in a bid to make the crisis more "bearable".

"We are on our way to better times," Rutte said in a televised press conference.

High school students will be able to return to classrooms for one day a week from March 1 but universities will remain closed.

Limited numbers of people will be able to visit non-essential shops and hairdressers and others in "contact professions" will be allowed to return to work. Many businesses will remain closed until at least March 8.

"We are at a time when we have to be prepared to take a little bit more risk," Rutte added.

It's part of a plan to ease a lockdown-weary nation out of restrictions while vaccination campaigns continue.

But with roughly 4,000 new COVID cases a day and the emergence of new more transmissible variants, many European countries are facing a tough balance.

The 9:00pm to 4:30am coronavirus curfew sparked mass protests when it first came into effect. Last week, a court in the Hague said the government had abused its emergency powers to impose it and ordered it to stop.

But the government appealed and subsequently rushed legislation through parliament to give the curfew a stronger legal backing.

Rutte announced the changes to the lockdown after the country’s public health body said that COVID infections rose by 19% in the past week in part due to more testing.

Just under 800,000 people have received a first dose of the COVID vaccine in the Netherlands.

The lockdown easing comes ahead of a general election planned for March 17.