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New Dutch government expected to ease month-long COVID-19 lockdown

The new government of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was expected to ease a month-long COVID-19 lockdown on Friday, as popular support for it is evaporating despite the strain on hospitals and record new infections.

Most stores, hairdressers, and gyms will be allowed to reopen, national broadcaster NOS reported, citing government sources. Restaurants are expected to remain closed except for takeaway service.

Rutte, whose cabinet was installed on Monday, is due to make a televised address to the nation at 1800 GMT.

His caretaker government ordered the lockdown in mid-December as a wave of the Delta variant forced the health system to cancel all but the most urgent care and it appeared rising Omicron cases would overwhelm it. read more

Infections have continued to rise despite the lockdown, which bans all public gatherings, with a record of more than 200,000 in the week through Jan. 11, according to the Netherlands Institute for Health (RIVM). But hospitalizations declined slightly.

A poll by Hart van Nederland published on Friday found that 89% of people supported reopening stores and the majority support reopening restaurants and cultural institutions.

More than 86% of Dutch adults are fully vaccinated and nearly 50% received a booster shot during a major campaign during the lockdown.

Among other changes to policy expected on Friday, the incoming Health Minister Ernst Kuipers is expected to shorten the period during which people exposed to, but not infected with, the virus is obliged to quarantine.

Primary schools have been open since Jan. 10 after a longer-than-planned closure for winter holidays, but classes are frequently dismissed after students or teachers are exposed.

Kuipers may also seek to expand the use of face masks. Adherence to rules, such as wearing them in grocery stores, is patchy.