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Netherlands slightly eases virus lockdown

The Netherlands is ending its strict coronavirus lockdown after four weeks but many restrictions will remain in place, the government has announced.

Shops, hairdressers, sports clubs and universities will be allowed to reopen from Saturday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in The Hague.

However, restaurants, museums, theatres and cinemas will remain closed.

The easing of rules comes amid pressure from businesses – and outrage in the restaurant and cultural sectors.

Rutte said lifting the lockdown completely was not an option due to dramatically rising infection figures.

“Everything at the same time is not possible, the risk is too great,” he said while noting that there might be a further easing of the rules at the end of the month.

Health Minister Ernst Kuipers said the country had reached a “new phase of the pandemic”.

He acknowledged that many citizens and business owners were distressed by the lockdown, currently the only in Europe.

“We have to learn to live with the virus,” Kuipers added but cautioned that the risk of overwhelming the health system remained high.

Opposition to the harsh measures grew strongly over the past few days.

Restaurant owners have already announced protests for Saturday and some plan to open again for service despite the ban.

Many of these businesses have the support of local mayors.

In the southern town of Valkenburg, near the German border city of Aachen, many shops and restaurants were already open on Friday.

Following the government’s decision, shops will again be allowed to receive customers until 5pm daily.

Citizens can have four visitors in their homes at once, up from two previously.

Quarantine requirements will no longer apply to those who have received a booster vaccination or were already infected with the coronavirus this year.

Up until now, only supermarkets and pharmacies have been allowed to open.

The lockdown, which began on December 19, was intended to ease the pressure on hospitals.

And despite daily peaks in new infections, the number of patients in hospitals is decreasing.

On Friday, more than 35,000 new infections were registered – more than ever before.

That is more than 1300 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over seven days.

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