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Dutch PM orders 'partial lockdown' to halt coronavirus surge

After long refusing to make the wearing of masks compulsory, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte finally ordered that non-medical face coverings must also be worn in all indoor spaces by people aged over 13
After long refusing to make the wearing of masks compulsory, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte finally ordered that non-medical face coverings must also be worn in all indoor spaces by people aged over 13 Bart Maat ANP/AFP
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The Hague (AFP)

The Netherlands will go into "partial lockdown" to curb one of Europe's biggest coronavirus surges, with all bars, cafes and restaurants to close, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Tuesday.

The sale of alcohol and cannabis will also be banned after 8pm (1800 GMT) in a bid to reduce the social contacts that have led to the rise in Covid-19 cases, Rutte said of the steps.

After long refusing to make the wearing of masks compulsory, Rutte finally ordered that non-medical face coverings must also be worn in all indoor spaces by people aged over 13.

"We are going into a partial lockdown. It hurts but it's the only way, we have to be stricter," Rutte told a televised press conference.

"If we do all of this, we can quickly return to a more normal life."

The rules will take effect at 10pm (2000 GMT) Wednesday and will last for an initial period of two weeks, when the government will review whether they have halted the spread of the virus.

The Dutch government for months opted for what Rutte called an "intelligent lockdown" policy that was far more relaxed than its European neighbours.

But it has scrambled to control the second wave of the disease.

The Netherlands currently has the third highest rate of new infections per 100,000 people in Europe over the last 14 days, behind only the Czech Republic and Belgium, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

- 'No more soft drugs' -

Dutch health authorities on Wednesday reported a daily record of 7,393 new coronavirus infections, with 43,903 new cases over the past week and 150 deaths.

Among the new measures, team sports for over 18s are banned, while people are now limited to having three visitors at their home per day.

The new steps largely target the catering and entertainments industry where the government says the disease is spreading.

Restaurants and cafes will close for everything except takeaway, as will the Netherlands' famous "coffee shops" that sell cannabis.

"No more alcohol or soft drugs will be sold or delivered between 8:00pm and 7:00am," the government's new regulations say, while public consumption of either is also banned during those hours.

The Netherlands has also lagged behind other European countries in ordering the wearing of masks, but Rutte said he wanted to "settle a lingering discussion once and for all".

The Dutch government gave "urgent advice" to wear masks in its last set of measures two weeks ago, but "that did not provide sufficient clarity" and many people continued to go without them, said Rutte.

Rutte, who marks ten years in power on Wednesday, has faced growing criticism over the government's failure to rein in coronavirus cases.

Populist opposition parties in particular have been using the Covid-19 crisis to push their case ahead of Dutch elections in March.

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