Image Credit: Reuters

The Hague: The Dutch government announced plans to enforce a stricter lockdown to stem a surge in coronavirus infections caused by the spread of the omicron variant.

"Omicron spreads even quicker than we feared. That is why we have to act now, to prevent worse," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Saturday at a news conference in The Hague. "We are going back into a lockdown."

The tougher measures mean the country pivots from evening restrictions that shuttered shops, bars and restaurants after 5 p.m. to a so-called full lockdown that allows only supermarkets and essential shops to stay open.

They'll take effect on Sunday and last until at least Jan. 14. All schools and universities will stay closed while the stricter curbs last.

The Netherlands has been in a partial lockdown since November because of a surge in infections that has seen daily cases soar to over 20,000 that month from as low as 1,602 in October. The country reported 14,742 confirmed cases on Saturday.

The new strain spreads two to three times quicker compared to the delta variant, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment head Jaap van Dissel said in parliament this week.

New Infections

The omicron variant already represents 25% of new infections in Amsterdam, compared with 12% at the start of the week, Menno de Jong, a virologist at the university hospital affiliated with the University of Amsterdam, told the TV show EenVandaag.

The Netherlands has announced plans to speed up its vaccine booster campaign but currently still trails its EU peers.

While countries such Austria has administered 3.3 million extra jabs and Belgium 2.8 million, the Dutch so far only have given about 1.5 million additional doses, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

The country is also short on spare capacity in its hospital intensive care units. For every 100,000 inhabitants, there are just seven ICU beds, compared with 48 in Germany and 19 in France, according to a University of Oxford study that compiled OECD, World Bank and government data. Previously, German hospitals have admitted Dutch patients to help ease the pressure.