Nations across Europe moved to reimpose tougher measures to stem a new wave of Covid-19 infections spurred by the highly transmissible omicron variant, including a new nationwide lockdown introduced by the Dutch government.
Schools, universities, and all non-essential stores, bars and restaurants in the Netherlands will be closed until January 14 starting on Sunday, caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte said Saturday night.
Residents only will be permitted two visitors except for Christmas and New Year’s, when four will be allowed, he said.
“The Netherlands is going into lockdown again from tomorrow,” Mr Rutte said, adding that the move was “unavoidable because of the fifth wave caused by the Omicron variant that is bearing down on us”.
Before the Dutch announcement, alarmed ministers in France, Cyprus and Austria tightened travel restrictions.
Paris cancelled its New Year’s Eve fireworks.
Denmark closed theatres, concert halls, amusement parks and museums.
Ireland imposed an 8pm curfew on pubs and bars and limited attendance at indoor and outdoor events.
The World Health Organisation reported on Saturday that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in 89 countries, and Covid-19 cases involving the variant are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in places with community transmission and not just infections acquired abroad.
Major questions about Omicron remain unanswered, including how effective existing Covid-19 vaccines are against it and whether the variant produces severe illness in many infected individuals, the WHO noted.
Yet Omicron’s “substantial growth advantage” over the Delta variant means it is likely to soon overtake Delta as the dominant form of the virus in countries where the new variant is spreading locally, the UN health agency said.
In the Netherlands, anticipation a government meeting on Saturday would result in tougher restrictions caused shoppers to swarm commercial areas of Dutch cities, fearing it would be their last chance to buy Christmas gifts.
Rotterdam municipality tweeted that it was “too busy in the centre” of the port city and told people: “Don’t come to the city.”
Amsterdam also warned that the city’s main shopping street was busy and urged people to stick to coronavirus rules.