The Dutch hit the shops on Saturday (December 18) as they prepared for a Christmas lockdown that is expected to close all but essential stores from Sunday (December 19), as the health minister said authorities were “extremely worried” about the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
The main shopping street in Nijmegen, 120 kilometers from Amsterdam, was packed with people looking for last-minute gifts.
“Apparently,I am not the only one who thought I’d better shop today,” Femke Bos , 21, said as she was looking for a birthday present.
Municipal authorities in the port city of Rotterdam urged shoppers via Twitter to stay at home because the city centre was “too busy.”
The government is meeting on Saturday with its health experts, who have recommended the closure of all non-essential shops, schools, bars, restaurants and other public venues.
“We are extremely worried,” about the possible spread of the Omicron variant, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge told journalists earlier on Saturday.
Broadcasters NOS and RTL reported that the lockdown, which will also see hairdressers and gyms close their doors, would start early on Sunday morning and run until Jan. 14.
It would come after the government on Tuesday extended the 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. closure of bars, restaurants and most stores, introduced in late November, until Jan. 14.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte said then that Omicron could be the dominant coronavirus variant in the Netherlands by January.
On Saturday the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) reported a total of over 2.9 million COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic with 20,420 reported deaths. On Saturday the institute reported 14,616 new infections in 24 hours.
The feared new wave of Omicron infections would further burden the country’s strained healthcare system, which is already postponing most routine care and canceling all but urgent operations in order to cope with COVID-19 patients.