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Dutch leader says easing lockdown was ‘error of judgment’

Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte's government scrapped most remaining restrictions just over three weeks ago amid declining infection numbers and hospital admissions.

The Dutch leader apologised Monday for what he called ‘an error of judgment’ in relaxing the Netherlands’ coronavirus lockdown, a move that has led to a sharp surge in infections.

Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government scrapped most remaining restrictions just over three weeks ago amid declining infection numbers and hospital admissions.

The easing meant that, among other public spaces, nightclubs and discotheques were allowed to reopen for the first time in more than a year.

On the first weekend after the relaxation, thousands of mainly young people flocked to clubs in towns and cities across the country.

Since then, infections have skyrocketed. Rutte was forced to backtrack and on Friday reintroduced some measures to rein in the virus’ spread.

On Saturday, the country’s public health institute reported more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases, the highest number of positive tests since late December.

“An error of judgment was made, we are sorry about that,” Rutte told reporters in The Hague.

Caretaker Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said the relaxation combined with a lack of social distancing and the delta variant “has had, of course, an accelerating effect. You can unfortunately see that with hindsight.”

The Netherlands is not alone in facing soaring infections. Countries across Europe are scrambling to accelerate coronavirus vaccinations in the hope of outpacing the spread of the more infectious delta variant.

More than 46 per cent of the Netherlands’ adult population is fully vaccinated and more than 77 per cent of adults have had at least one shot.Health authorities say they will administer first or second shots to more than 1.3 million people this week.

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