Netherlands Bans Fans From Stadiums in New Partial Lockdown Amid Surge in COVID Cases

Caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced a three-week partial lockdown in response to a recent surge of COVID-19 cases in the Netherlands.

On Thursday, the Netherlands' public health institute recorded 16,364 new positive tests in 24 hours—the country's highest number throughout the whole pandemic. In an Associated Press report, Rutte said the Dutch government wants to "deliver a hard blow to the virus."

Beginning Saturday, the lockdown will make bars, restaurants and supermarkets close at 8 p.m. and stores selling non-essential items to close at 6 p.m. Also, sports stadiums will have to be empty during upcoming matches.

"Tonight we have a very unpleasant message with very unpleasant and far-reaching decisions," Rutte said in the AP report.

The Dutch soccer federation and two professional leagues released a statement saying they felt "great dismay" at the lockdown. They stressed that soccer stadiums have strict COVID measures in place and that they are not a major infection source.

"This looks like policy poverty," the organizations said, saying government officials "no longer know what to do."

The AP reported that as Rutte was making the announcement, The Hague said they arrested nearby protestors for setting off fireworks. Many groups have expressed contempt for the renewed lockdown regulations, as the Netherlands only largely ended lockdown restrictions two months ago.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte
Caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced a three-week partial lockdown November 12 amid surging COVID-19 cases in the Netherlands, saying his government wants to “deliver a hard blow to the virus.” Above, Rutte talks to journalists as he arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, October 21. Olivier Hoslet/Pool Photo via AP, File

The Netherlands is not alone in taking measures to rein in soaring coronavirus infections.

Earlier Friday, Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said his country will implement a lockdown for unvaccinated people in two hard-hit regions next week and looks poised to move forward with similar measures nationwide.

Starting Monday, unvaccinated people in the regions of Upper Austria and Salzburg will only be allowed to leave home for specific necessary reasons, such as buying groceries or going to the doctor.

Meanwhile, Germany's disease control center is urging people to cancel or avoid large events and to reduce their contacts as the country's coronavirus infection rate hits a string of new highs.

Speaking about the deteriorating situation in Europe at a press conference earlier Friday, Dr. Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization head of emergencies, said that "quite frankly, some countries are in such a difficult situation now that they're going to find it hard not to put in place restrictive measures, at least for a short period of time, to reduce the intensity of transmission."

Rutte also said that social distancing is returning. Masks are already widely mandated, including in shops and public transport.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said that the government is also working on legislation to restrict access in some "high-risk" locations and events to people who can demonstrate they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19—and not allow people who have tested negative. Austria and parts of Germany already have similar restrictions in place.

Separately, the government announced Friday that it would bring forward the start of a campaign to administer booster shots of COVID-19 shots to older citizens and healthcare workers. The campaign had been set to start in December, but will now begin at the end of next week.

News of the possible move before the announcement had prompted fury among bar owners and sports administrators earlier Friday.

Rutte also confirmed that a World Cup soccer qualifier between the Netherlands and Norway on Tuesday in Rotterdam would be played behind closed doors.

An organization representing bar and restaurant owners also slammed the government.

"Hospitality businesses are again being presented with the bill for failing government policy," the group said in a statement.

The country, where nearly 85 percent of adults are fully vaccinated, largely ended lockdown restrictions at the end of September.

Netherlands, football, national team
Following a new lockdown mandate, all sports matches must take place in empty stadiums starting Saturday. Here, Joshua Zirkzee of the Netherlands U21 celebrates after scoring his sides second goal with Jurgen Ekkelenkamp, Quinten Timber and Daishawn Redan during the U21 UEFA EURO Qualifying Round match between The Netherlands U21 and Bulgaria U21 at Yanmar Stadion on November 12 in Almere, Netherlands. Photo by Peter Lous/BSR Agency/Getty Images