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Dutch government to drop most COVID-19 restrictions as infections fall

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By Euronews  with AP, AFP
Demonstrators talk next to some of the 20 trucks which blocked one entrance to government buildings to protest COVID measures in The Hague, Netherlands, Feb. 12, 2022.
Demonstrators talk next to some of the 20 trucks which blocked one entrance to government buildings to protest COVID measures in The Hague, Netherlands, Feb. 12, 2022.   -   Copyright  AP Photo

The Dutch government said they would lift most COVID-19 restrictions from February 25 as virus infections and hospitalisations decrease.

Bars and restaurants will return to pre-pandemic opening hours, and people will no longer be required to wear masks in most public places, the government announced.

"The country is opening up again," Dutch health minister Ernst Kuipers told a press conference, adding that masks would only be mandatory on public transportation and at the airport.

"Keeping your distance and wearing a mask remains prudent, but there is no obligation," he added.

The Netherlands recently reported a drop in hospitalisations and infections after imposing some of the strictest virus curbs in Europe. They're now following other European countries such as Belgium and Denmark in easing most restrictions.

Infections in the Netherlands decreased by 22% in a week and hospitalisations dropped by 18%, the Netherlands' public health institute said earlier in the day.

The government warned however that the pandemic was still not over and that vulnerable people needed to be prudent.

Last year, demonstrators violently protested the strict COVID-19 restrictions, with police shooting and injuring several protesters in Rotterdam in November.

The Netherlands spent both Christmas and New Year's in lockdown before they began easing restrictions from mid-January.

On Wednesday, an independent inquiry stated that the country had been inadequately prepared for the pandemic and had paid insufficient attention to the threat to people in care homes.

The Dutch Safety Board said authorities “became overly fixated” on hospitals at the start of the health crisis and not the “unprecedented impact” on nursing homes, education, cultural institutions, and business.

The safety board’s chairman, former finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, called the pandemic the country’s biggest social crisis in decades.

“The Netherlands proved to be vulnerable,” Dijsselbloem said. “This was due to the structures the government had in place for the health sector and the crisis response: they fell short given the nature and scope of the crisis.”

The safety board, which said it was important to learn from the crisis, made 10 recommendations aimed at strengthening preparedness for future crises.

The report included a written response by former Health Minister Hugo de Jonge, who was a key player in the political handling of the pandemic. He defended the country’s approach while acknowledging errors,

“Many parties and people — including in my department — ​​delivered extraordinary work. Things went well, mistakes were made, there are countries that have done better and less well,” De Jonge wrote.