Dutch bars and restaurants can reopen after lockdown - PM Rutte

A general view of a largely deserted Dutch urban centre is seen as the country enters into its third day of lockdown, in Den Bosch, Netherlands December 21, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

THE HAGUE, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Bars, restaurants and theatres in the Netherlands can reopen on Jan. 26, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Tuesday, further relaxing the country's COVID-19 restrictions despite record infection levels.

Health Minister Ernst Kuipers said experts felt the reopening was possible in part because hospitalisations from the country's Omicron wave have been lower than initially feared.

"We really are taking a risk today, and we have to be clear about that," Rutte said, announcing the decision at a nationally televised news conference.

The bars, restaurants and theatres that have been closed since mid-December will now be allowed to open from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m., at reduced capacity and with social distancing rules in place. The public will also be able to attend sporting events, zoos, museums and attraction parks.

Patrons will have to show proof of vaccination or recovery from an infection.

Bars and restaurants had begun stocking up on food on Tuesday after Rutte's team of experts published advice on Monday endorsing allowing the hospitality industry to resume normal business.

Public support for lockdown measures have waned steadily over the past month, and large protests against them were held in Amsterdam.

Schools were reopened on Jan. 10 and non-essential stores reopened on Jan. 15 with a requirement for masks.

The easing comes despite continuing high infection levels. On Tuesday, the National Institute for Health (RIVM) reported a record 366,120 cases for the previous week, up 51%.

The overall number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals rose slightly over the past week, but the number in intensive care units declined.

Nearly 90% of Dutch adults have been vaccinated and around 57% have had a booster shot.

Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg and Toby Sterling; Editing by Robert Birsel, Mark Potter and Alison Williams

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