Dutch caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte speaks with the media following exit polls in the general election in The Hague, Netherlands, March 17, 2021. Dutch voters pushed Rutte towards a fourth term in office in a general election Wednesday, bolstering his conservative party's position as the biggest in parliament and boosting a key ally into second place, an exit poll suggested. (Piroschka van de Wouw/Pool via AP)
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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Tuesday that coronavirus infections are rising too fast to allow a relaxation of the country's tough lockdown and instead extended it for a further three weeks.

In one small change ahead of summer time starting at the weekend, the government pushed back the start time of its curfew by an hour to 10 p.m. starting March 31.

Two weeks ago, ahead of a general election that his party won, Rutte offered hope that a “tipping point” was approaching when vaccinations would gain the upper hand over the virus.

However, since then infection rates and hospital admissions have risen in the Netherlands and around Europe.

“That is the worrying reality of today and that is why at the moment we cannot drop any of the measures,” Rutte said.

“I understand this is disappointing. I understand the impatience, and we see unrest in society, but at the same time, locally, I see the huge efforts from mayors to maintain the peace. It is important for us all and it is a responsibility for us all. We have to do this together,” he added.

As part of the lockdown, public gathering places like bars and restaurants have been closed since mid-October in the Netherlands.

Rutte also extended a negative travel advisory until mid-May, urging people not to travel outside the country.

The Dutch decision comes on the same day that neighboring Germany also extended its lockdown for a month and added new restrictions.

Earlier Tuesday, the Dutch public health institute reported a 16% rise in positive coronavirus tests over the last week compared to the week before and increases in the number of deaths and hospitalizations due to COVID-19.

Infections among the young rose sharply, with an increase of 29% among children aged 13-17 and 23% for children aged 12 and under. The rises came weeks after the government allowed schools to partially reopen.

More than 16,300 people are confirmed to have died of COVID-19 in the Netherlands.


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