Dutch virus infections fall 20% but variants gain strongly

International

Dutch riot police line up in front of the Rijksmuseum, rear left, as they watch over a demonstration against the curfew and other COVID-19 related restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021. (AP Photo/Mike Corder)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — New coronavirus infections in the Netherlands fell 20% over the last week but more transmissible variants now account for two-thirds of Dutch infections, the public health institute said Tuesday hours before a government press conference on the country’s tough lockdown.

The institute said new infections fell to 28,628 but urged “the greatest possible caution” in any relaxation of the lockdown.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte was not expected to announce any major easing of the tough lockdown that started Dec. 15. Bars and restaurants have been closed even longer — since mid-October.

The first easing of the lockdown this year came Sunday, when the government announced that elementary schools and daycare centers will reopen next Monday.

The public health institute said last week’s reduction in new infections was a result of the lockdown, but said it was too early to tell what effect the country’s curfew has had since taking effect on Jan. 23. The Netherlands this week recorded the lowest daily increase in infections since the end of September.

The introduction of the 9 p.m.-to-4:30 a.m. curfew triggered riotingin several Dutch towns and cities, with stores looted and a virus test facility torched by youths in a fishing village. Scattered protests against the lockdown last weekend were generally peaceful.

The public health institute said “without the more contagious variants, the situation would be going in the right direction” but warned that “relaxing the (lockdown) measures can only be done with the greatest possible caution.”

Under the lockdown, all schools and nonessential shops are closed, along with public venues such as cinemas, museums and libraries. There also are strict limits on the size of gatherings both indoors and outside.

The confirmed Dutch death toll in the pandemic is more than 14,100.

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