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Netherlands announce strict Christmas lockdown

The Netherlands has announced a strict lockdown over Christmas amid concerns over the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Non-essential shops, bars, gyms hairdressers and other public venues will be closed until at least mid-January. Two guests per household will be allowed – four over the holidays.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the restrictions were “unavoidable”.

Countries across Europe have been tightening restrictions as the heavily mutated variant spreads.

The new rules in the Netherlands – the strictest to have been announced over Omicron so far – come into force on Sunday.

“I stand here tonight in a sombre mood. And a lot of people watching will feel that way too,” Mr Rutte told a news conference on Saturday. “To sum it up in one sentence, the Netherlands will go back into lockdown from tomorrow.”

Under the new rules, people are being urged to stay at home as much as possible. Strict limits will be placed on the number of people who can meet – a maximum of two guests over the age of 13 will be allowed in people’s homes, and four on 24-26 December and on New Year’s Eve.

All schools will be closed until at least 9 January, while other lockdown measures will remain in place until at least 14 January.

BBC reports the announcement was being met with disbelief and dismay.

For weeks, curfews have been placed on hospitality and cultural venues in the Netherlands an effort to limit the spread of Omicron.

The Dutch National Institute for Public Health has reported more than 2.9m coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, and over 20,000 deaths.

It says the Omicron variant currently still accounts for a minority of coronavirus cases in the Netherlands but is spreading rapidly.

Officials say it is expected to become the dominant variant by the New Year.

Editing by Omotola Oguneye