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Netherlands announces 'Going Into Lockdown Again' amid Omicron surge ahead of Christmas

Nations across Europe moved to reimpose tougher measures to stem the new COVID variant with the Netherlands leading the way by imposing a nationwide lockdown from Sunday.

Netherlands announces Going Into Lockdown Again amid Omicron surge ahead of Christmas
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As the new wave of COVID-19 infections spurred by the highly transmissible omicron variant spread rapidly, nations across Europe moved to reimpose tougher measures to stem the new COVID variant with the Netherlands leading the way by imposing a nationwide lockdown from Sunday.

Just ahead of Christmas, Netherlands' caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that all non-essential stores, bars, and restaurants in the nation will remain closed until January 14 starting Sunday (December 19). Speaking at a hastily arranged press conference Saturday night, Rutte added that schools and universities in the nation will remain shut until January 9.

"The Netherlands is going into lockdown again from tomorrow," he said, adding that the move was "unavoidable because of the fifth wave caused by the omicron variant that is bearing down on us." In what is sure to prove a major disappointment, the lockdown terms also rein in private holiday celebrations. Residents only will be permitted two visitors except for Christmas and New Year's, when four will be allowed, according to Rutte.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan underscored the official concern about the climbing cases and their potential to overwhelm the health care system by declaring a major incident Saturday, a move that allows local councils in Britain's capital to coordinate work more closely with emergency services.

Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin captured the sense of the continent in an address to the nation, saying the new restrictions were needed to protect lives and livelihoods from the resurgent virus.

The World Health Organization reported 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, WHO noted.

In the Netherlands, shoppers fearing the worst swarmed to commercial areas of Dutch cities earlier Saturday, thinking it might be their last chance to buy Christmas gifts. Rotterdam municipality tweeted that it was "too busy in the center" 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.

The head of the Dutch public health institute, Jaap van Dissel, described the shutdown as a preventative move that would "buy time" for more people to get booster vaccines and for the nation's health care system to prepare for a possible new surge in infections.

In the U.K., where confirmed daily cases soared to record numbers this week, the government has reimposed a requirement for masks to be worn indoors and ordered people to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test when going to nightclubs and large events.

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