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The Hague (AFP) – The Netherlands is bringing back coronavirus measures including a requirement for face masks in many public spaces to combat a surge in cases, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Tuesday.


He said the government was also reintroducing a 1.5-metre (five-foot) social distancing rule, extending so-called Covid passes to places such as museums and restaurant terraces.

People are also being advised to work from home for at least half the week and avoid rush-hour travel.

The move — which makes the Netherlands one of the first in western Europe to bring back restrictions — comes less than two months after it drastically relaxed anti-Covid measures.

“It won’t surprise anyone that we have a difficult message tonight. Infections and hospital admissions are rising quickly,” Rutte told a press conference.

Police attended a small protest outside the justice and security ministry as the measures were announced, local media said.

The Netherlands had some of Europe’s most lax restrictions early in the pandemic but drastically tightened up during a brutal second wave last year, with the country’s first curfew since World War II.

In September the government ended social distancing while bringing in coronavirus passes showing proof of vaccination, recovery from the virus or a negative test for restaurants, bars and festivals.

Rutte said face masks would now be required again in shops and for professions including hairdressers and massage parlours. They were already still obligatory on public transport, although not in stations or on platforms.

Sex workers in the Netherlands — where prostitution is legal — would however continue to be excluded from the mask rule.

Booster doses of coronavirus vaccines for the over-60s would meanwhile begin shortly to counter waning immunity, the government said.

The Netherlands recorded an average of 7,711 positive Covid tests daily over the past week, up 39 percent from the previous week, the public health body said Tuesday.

The country of 17 million people has recorded 18,441 deaths from coronavirus. Nearly 84 percent of the adult population has been vaccinated and health minister Hugo de Jonge said “now is the time” for the unvaccinated to get jabbed.

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