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Dutch tourists flock to Belgium to escape New Year COVID lockdown at home

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By Euronews
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People have drinks at a Christmas market cafe in the historical center of Antwerp, Belgium, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021.
People have drinks at a Christmas market cafe in the historical center of Antwerp, Belgium, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Frustrated Dutch tourists have been flocking to neighbouring Belgium to escape a tough New Year lockdown at home.

The Netherlands has imposed the tightest winter restrictions in Europe closing down non-essential shops, restaurants, bars, cinemas, museums and theatres until mid-January in a bid to slow the surge in covid infections, fuelled by the Omicron variant.

But just next-door, Belgium has so far opted for lighter measures despite fears the new strain could spark another wave of infections in the country.

Dutch visitors were out and about in Antwerp on Thursday shopping and stopping in at bars and cafés that are shuttered back home. More than 7,000 Dutch visitors travelled by train to the Belgian city the previous day alone.

"We just wanted to escape the lockdown. Everything is closed, actually, we have nothing to do, and it's our holiday," Dutch tourist Charleigh said, declining to give her surname.

"So we thought it was more fun to come to Belgium."

Local businesses said the lockdown in the Netherlands was helping provide a much-needed boon after tough times during the pandemic.

"In the past few days, most of my clients are Dutch," said ice-cream vendor Marie. "So it's very good for our business."

The influx of visitors comes despite warnings from the Dutch health minister and even its railway service not to head across the border.

"We do not recommend travelling to Belgium by train for the next few days, unless it is really necessary," the Dutch national train service tweeted on Wednesday.

"Due to large crowds, keeping sufficient distance is impossible. We have extra staff on the platforms and will continue to monitor the situation in the coming days."