The Netherlands will tighten its partial Covid lockdown on Friday with the early closure of bars, restaurants and shops, as police prepare for possible further riots on sidewalks.
Schools will, however, remain open under measures to be unveiled by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at a 7 p.m. press conference, Dutch media reported.
Hospitals will also cancel planned operations to free up beds as cases hit record highs of more than 20,000 infections a day, despite 85% of Dutch adults being vaccinated, the health minister said.
But new restrictions risk escalating a tense situation after four nights of unrest across the country, including in the port city of Rotterdam where five rioters were shot dead by police.
“We are keeping our eyes and ears open and we are ready,” Rotterdam police spokesman Gijs van Nimwegen told AFP.
“We hope that things will remain calm in Rotterdam and the rest of the Netherlands.”
The Dutch government decided at a meeting on Friday that non-essential shops, bars, cafes, restaurants, cinemas and restaurants were to close from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m., starting Sunday, public broadcaster NOS reported.
Non-essential stores were previously allowed to stay open until 6 p.m. and food service establishments until 8 p.m.
Schools will remain open, despite the biggest increase in infections among children, but students aged 10 and above must wear masks, NOS said citing sources in the cabinet.
Health experts from the Dutch Outbreak Management Team are said to have estimated that a new closure of schools, as was the case at the start of the pandemic, would be harmful to children.
But some experts have called for schools to be closed to stop the wave of infections caused by young people that is overwhelming hospitals.
Dutch authorities recorded 21,350 new infections on Friday, slightly below the seven-day average of 22,258.
Hospitals will cancel non-critical operations such as knee and hip surgeries, while critical operations such as heart and cancer treatments may have to be postponed, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said.
The Dutch “should prepare for a harsh winter,” de Jonge added.
The Netherlands lifted most restrictions on coronaviruses in September, but was forced to reintroduce them in October, sparking angry protests.
Protests erupted in The Hague during the Prime Minister’s last two press conferences on Covid, with police using water cannons to disperse protesters.
Riots broke out in Rotterdam last Friday after a Covid protest, and unrest spread to The Hague on Saturday and other cities including Groningen in the north on Sunday and Monday.
At least 173 people have been arrested across the country.
The mayor of Nijmegen near the German border has meanwhile banned a demonstration scheduled for Sunday against measures against the coronavirus “because of a serious risk of disturbing public order”.