Dutch PM Rutte extends evening curfew through March 31

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Monday said an evening curfew to combat the coronavirus outbreak must remain in place until at least March 31 due to the continuing high number of new cases.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

Exceptions will be made to ensure national elections on March 15-17 proceed as planned.

“It would not be prudent now to announce any easing,” Rutte said, adding that some adjustments might be possible around the Easter vacation and gradually as vaccination levels increase through the summer.

Coronavirus infections in the Netherlands have stabilized in the past week, following a modest rise in February attributed by health authorities in part to new variants of the virus becoming more prevalent.

The 9 p.m.-4.30 a.m. curfew sparked several days of rioting throughout the country when it was first imposed six weeks ago.

Restaurants and bars might be allowed to start serving customers on outdoor terraces by next month if the infection rate drops in the coming three weeks, Rutte said.

Public gatherings remained banned, private visits are limited to one person at a time. Government advice against unnecessary international travel will remain in place until at least April 15, Rutte said.

Bars and restaurants in the Netherlands have been closed since mid-October, along with other public places such as museums, libraries, gyms and cinemas.

Last month the government allowed non-essential stores and hairdressers to reopen for a limited amount of customers by appointment.

Shopkeepers, restaurant owners and anti-lockdown activists have launched several court cases to get relief from lockdown measures in recent weeks, but without success so far.

Polls indicate that Rutte’s conservative VVD party will remain the largest at the elections, even though public support for his coronavirus policies has declined in recent weeks.

Reporting by Bart Meijer and Toby Sterling; Editing by Chris Reese and Nick Macfie