The Netherlands will be under a strict Christmastime lockdown in order to curb the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant, making it the first European country to take the drastic measure in response to the mutation.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced late Saturday night that all non-essential businesses and services, like restaurants, museums, salons, and gyms, will be closed starting Sunday. They are expected to reopen on January 14. Schools will be closed until January 9.
The Dutch are also advised to limit their holiday gatherings to just two visitors, even if outdoor celebrations are planned.
“The Netherlands is again shutting down. That is unavoidable because of the fifth wave that is coming at us with the Omicron variant,” Rutte announced Saturday.
The Netherlands under Christmas lockdown to curb omicron spread
Rutte expressed his concern that failing to curb the spread of the variant could lead to “unmanageable” strain on hospitals in the country.
The country imposed a strict “nighttime lockdown” in late November, which involved the closure of all non-essential stores and services from 5 PM to 5 AM.
The omicron variant was first found in the country nearly one month ago, and has since spread rapidly in the Netherlands. It is expected to become the dominant strain of the coronavirus in the country by Christmas, according to Jaap van Dissel, Dutch virologist and infectiologist.
Since its arrival in the country, omicron has caused an influx of patients to Dutch hospitals, which is a major reason for the country’s upcoming lockdown.
This has put Dutch officials on edge, as although 85% of the country’s adult population has received the vaccine, fewer than 9% have had the booster shot, which has been shown to increase resistance to the omicron variant.
Booster shot increases resistance to omicron
Officials from Pfizer and BioNTech, the firms that produced the very first coronavirus vaccine, said that three inoculations of their product “neutralized” the omicron variant in new laboratory tests.
They then announced that they could deliver a reformulated vaccine in March of 2022 if that becomes needed in order to fight the new variant.
“The first line of defence, with two doses of vaccination, might be compromised and three doses of vaccination are required to restore protection,” explained BioNTech Chief Medical Officer Ozlem Tuereci in the Wednesday press conference. However, he stated that the two doses many millions of people have now had all over the world may still protect against severe forms of the disease.
Just the two doses of the Pfizer product resulted in significantly lower neutralizing antibodies, Tierce stated, but a third dose was exponentially more effective, upping that by a factor of 25.
The BioNTech and Pfizer officials were the first manufacturers of any coronavirus vaccine to speak officially regarding how their vaccine worked against the Omicron mutation of the virus.