Dutch flock to shops ahead of planned Christmas lockdown

THE HAGUE, Dec. 18 (Reuters) – The Dutch hit stores on Saturday as they braced for a Christmas lockdown that is expected to close all but essential stores from Sunday, as the health minister said authorities were “extremely concerned” about the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Leiden’s main shopping street, 20 kilometers from the capital The Hague, was packed with people looking for last-minute gifts. Some stores, selling toys or luxury skin care and cosmetics, had queues outside.

“It’s normally busy before Christmas, but a lot more than usual,” cosmetics store manager Ali Windster told Reuters.

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Municipal authorities in the port city of Rotterdam urged buyers via Twitter to stay at home as the city center was “too busy”.

The government is meeting with its health experts on Saturday, who have recommended the closure of all non-essential shops, schools, bars, restaurants and other public places. Read more

“We are extremely worried,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge told reporters on Saturday.

Carla Nekeman, who stocked up on cosmetics at the Windster boutique in Leiden, said she was preparing for another strict lockdown.

“I get a lot of things that I need that I can’t buy at the supermarket,” Nekeman said. “I’m going to have to queue everywhere.”

Health Ministry spokesman Axel Dees told Reuters there would be a government press conference to announce new measures at 7 p.m. (6 p.m. GMT). He did not comment on the types of measures that would be announced.

Broadcasters NOS and RTL reported that the lockdown, which will also see hairdressers and gyms shut down, will start early Sunday morning and continue until January 14.

This would come after the government extended the 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. closure of bars, restaurants and most shops on Tuesday, introduced in late November, until January 14.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte then said that Omicron could be the dominant variant of the coronavirus in the Netherlands by January.

On Saturday, the National Institute of Public Health (RIVM) reported a total of more than 2.9 million cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic with 20,420 deaths reported. On Saturday, the institute reported 14,616 new infections in 24 hours.

The feared new wave of Omicron infections is said to put more strain on the country’s tense healthcare system, which is already postponing most routine care and canceling all but urgent operations in order to deal with COVID-19 patients.

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Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg Editing by Mark Potter and Catherine Evans

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