Dutch propose curfew to rein in virus; will ban more flights

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Dutch government wants to impose a curfew as part of beefed-up restrictions to rein in the spread of a new more contagious virus variant that already accounts for at least one in every 10 Dutch infections.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Wednesday that his government also will ban flights from the U.K., South Africa and South America beginning Saturday for a month.

With Rutte’s administration in caretaker mode since resigning last week, it will have to convince skeptical lawmakers to back the 8:30 p.m.-to-4:30 a.m. curfew before it can be enforced. A debate is expected Thursday and Rutte appealed for support, saying “we are at a crucial moment for our security, for our national public health.”

Rutte’s four-party coalition resigned Friday over a scandal involving thousands of parents wrongly being labeled fraudsters by the country’s tax office. It remains in office as a caretaker administration until a new coalition is formed following a March 17 general election.

If parliament approves the curfew, the Netherlands would join other European Union countries that have told people to stay home after dark, including neighboring Belgium, France, Italy and parts of Germany.

The Netherlands has been in a tough lockdown for a month and will remain that way at least until at least Feb. 9, but the government says a slow decrease in the number of new infections and the threat posed by new variants have forced it to take tougher action.

The Dutch public health institute announced Tuesday that new infections decreased 21.5% over the past week to 38,776 as the lockdown that began in mid-December began to bear fruit. But at the same time, it warned that the new, more transmissible virus variant that led to a sharp spike in infections in the U.K. and Ireland is expected to make up at least half of all new Dutch COVID-19 cases by mid-February.

The Netherlands has counted 13,264 deaths in the pandemic, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

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