The Dutch government announced a three-week partial lockdown on Friday amid soaring COVID-19 cases that are putting the country’s health-care sector under renewed strain.
It comes as Europe has become the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic again, prompting some governments to consider re-imposing unpopular restrictions in the run-up to Christmas and stirring debate over whether vaccines alone are enough to tame COVID-19.
Under the lockdown, which comes into effect on Saturday night, bars, restaurants and supermarkets will have to close at 8 p.m. local time, professional sports matches will be played in empty stadiums and people are being urged to work from home as much as possible. Stores selling non-essential items will have to close at 6 p.m, caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Marc Rutte said Friday.
The move means the Dutch national team playing a World Cup qualifier against Norway on Tuesday night behind closed doors.
It comes a day after the country’s public health institute recorded 16,364 new positive tests in 24 hours — the highest number of any time during the pandemic.
The Netherlands, where nearly 85 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated, largely ended lockdown restrictions at the end of September.
Half of all infections globally are now in Europe
Europe accounts for more than half of the average seven-day infections globally and about half of the latest deaths, according to a Reuters tally, the highest levels since April last year when the virus first swept into Italy.
Germany and France are also experiencing a surge in infections, showing the challenge even for governments with high acceptance rates and dashing hopes vaccines would mean a return to close to normal.
World Health Organization Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday that the surge in Europe is “another reminder” that vaccines alone do not replace the need for other health measures.
To be sure, hospitalizations and deaths are much lower than a year ago. As well, big variations by country in use of vaccines and boosters as well as measures like physical distancing make it hard to draw conclusions for the whole region.
Germany’s disease control centre is calling for people to cancel or avoid large events and to reduce their contacts as the country’s coronavirus infection rate hits the latest in a string of new highs. While the infection rate isn’t yet as high as in some other European countries, its relentless rise in Germany has set off alarm bells.
“We must now do everything necessary to break this momentum,” Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters. “Otherwise it will be a bitter December for the whole country.”
Austria’s government is likely to decide on Sunday to impose a lockdown on people who are not vaccinated, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said on Friday.
– From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 12:56 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of Friday morning, more than 252 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to the global database maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than five million.
In Europe, Latvia’s parliament voted on Friday to ban lawmakers who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine from voting on legislature and participating in discussions. Latvia has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the European Union.
British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Friday that it will start to book a modest profit from its coronavirus vaccine as it moves away from the nonprofit model it has operated during the pandemic. Until now, AstraZeneca said it would provide the vaccine “at cost” — around $2 to $3 — for the duration of the pandemic following an agreement with the University of Oxford, which developed the vaccine. Other COVID-19 vaccine producers, such as Pfizer and Moderna, have been booking hefty profits on their shots all along.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Thailand on Friday said it would delay the reopening of nightlife entertainment venues to Jan. 15 despite pleas from the industry to make it sooner. A spokesperson for the government’s COVID-19 administration cited concerns about ventilation and inefficient prevention measures in pubs, bars and karaoke joints.
The Japanese government’s preparations for the next virus surge include adding thousands more hospital beds to avoid a situation like last summer when many COVID-19 patients were forced to stay home, even while dependent on oxygen deliveries.
In the Americas, one United States governor defied federal guidance on COVID-19 booster shots Thursday by issuing an order allowing all state residents 18 and older to get them.
“Because disease spread is so significant across Colorado, all Coloradans who are 18 years of age and older are at high risk and qualify for a booster shot,” Gov. Jared Polis said in an order. The state is facing a surge in infections that threatens to overwhelm hospitals.
In the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and senior aides holed up in a nuclear command bunker to simulate an outbreak of a vaccine-resistant COVID-19 variant to which children are vulnerable, describing such an eventuality as “the next war.”
– From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 11:10 a.m. ET