THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Bars and cafes in the most densely populated regions of the Netherlands will have to close their doors earlier from Sunday as the country begins reimposing restrictions to battle sharply rising infection rates, particularly among students and people in their 20s, the government announced Friday.
“The coronavirus is making a comeback,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte said at a nationally televised news conference and warned that more measures may be necessary if infection rates don’t start falling again soon.
As well as the early closing — at 1 a.m. — of hospitality establishments, Rutte said that any gatherings of more than 50 people will now have to apply for a permit from local authorities. The restrictions apply in six regions mostly in the densely populated west of the country and authorities in those regions also will likely introduce other local measures.
The regions affected include the capital, Amsterdam, as well as major cities such as Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht.
Rutte’s comments came as the Netherlands has recorded a string of record infection numbers in recent days, reaching 1,977 in the 24 hours to Friday morning.
At the somber news conference, Rutte warned that if the country doesn’t manage to get the virus under control, new infections could rise in three weeks to more than 10,000 per day. He urged the country to stick to social distancing and hygiene measures and to work from home as much as possible.
Hospital and intensive care unit admissions remain well below the levels reached during the first peak of the outbreak in March and April, but have been rising over recent weeks. More than 6,250 people are confirmed to have died in the Netherlands since the outbreak began, though the true number is higher because many people who died of suspected COVID-19 weren’t tested.
“Is this the second wave? Yes, if we look at the number of infections, this is the second wave,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said. But he added: “If we look at the situation in hospitals, we’re not there yet. Together, we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen.”
Jacco Vonhof, head of a small and medium-sized industry lobby group, criticized the decision to impose measures on hospitality establishments already reeling from the economic impact of the outbreak.
He called the move to close earlier “completely disproportional” and warned that drinkers would simply move elsewhere.
“It will lead to an increase in people gathering at home and at illegal parties after midnight,” he warned.