The Netherlands is back to a nationwide lockdown starting Sunday to curb the Omicron variant, caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte said after a meeting with his government to discuss new restrictions.
"I am here tonight in a sombre mood," Rutte said during a televised press conference. "To sum it up in one sentence, the Netherlands is going into lockdown again from tomorrow."
He added that the move was “unavoidable because of the fifth wave caused by the Omicron variant that is bearing down on us.”
Rutte admitted that the news was not what people were hoping for at Christmas. "So yes, a disappointing but perhaps not very big surprise," he said.
Elementary schools were ordered to close a week early for Christmas holidays until January 14.
Young children registered the steepest rises in infections in a recent coronavirus surge in the Netherlands.
Bars, restaurants, and other public meeting places such as theatres and cinemas have been shutting their doors at 5 pm since November 28 and will now have to continue through the holiday season.
Residents will be permitted only up to two visitors except for Christmas and New Year's, when four will be allowed, caretaker PM explained.
Rutte said that sustained high pressure on the health care system combined with the looming threat of the Omicron variant made measures unavoidable.
"This new variant is spreading considerably faster than the current Delta variant," he said, admitting not much is known about Omicron.
Earlier Tuesday, the country's public health institute in its weekly COVID-19 update said that positive tests declined by 21 per cent over the past week to 116,477.
Hospital admissions were down 10 per cent and intensive care units edged lower by 4 per cent, though the institute warned that the Omicron variant is expected to cause more infections and could in turn lead to an increase in hospital admissions.
Health minister Hugo de Jonge said the country's booster campaign will be accelerated so that every adult who wants a booster shot will be able to get one by the second half of January.