Dutch schools will reopen next week as planned after a longer than usual Christmas holiday, the government announced Monday, despite rising infections fuelled by the Omicron variant.
On December 19, the Netherlands imposed some of the toughest restrictions in Europe to curb the rapidly spreading Omicron, closing schools for three weeks and shutting all non-essential shops, cultural and entertainment venues until January 14.
“The reopening is responsible,” the Dutch education ministry said, citing the country’s Outbreak Management Team, which advises the government on handling the Covid-19 pandemic.
While primary and high schools will reopen on January 9, higher education institutions are being restricted to online courses “due to an increase in the number of infections in this age group,” the education ministry added.
Teens aged 17 and under will again be allowed to play sports outside until 8.00 pm from next week, when the situation will again be assessed.
The Dutch National Institute of Public Health said Monday that positive coronavirus cases were rising, mainly because the more infectious Omicron strain was now dominant.
Bars, restaurants, cafes and supermarkets will have to shut at 8:00 pm for the next three weeks from Saturday, while non-essential shops must shut at 6:00 pm.
People will be limited to having four visitors at home and have been advised to work at home unless absolutely necessary.
Public events will be scrapped while football matches including the Netherlands’ home World Cup qualifier with Norway next week must be played behind closed doors.
Schools will however remain open, and people will be allowed to leave their homes without restrictions.
The government will review the situation on December 3 to see if further measures are needed, Rutte added.
These could include requiring Covid passes to access the workplace, and allowing bars and restaurants to limit admittance to people who have been vaccinated or who have recovered from the disease.
Currently, such passes are needed to access all cafes, bars and restaurants but are also available to those who have shown a negative test.
Cases have soared since the Dutch government lifted most Covid measures less than two months ago on September 25.
Fresh restrictions are however politically sensitive, with thousands of people rallying in The Hague last Sunday after the government on November 2 said it was reintroducing face masks in some public spaces.
The Dutch football association noted the plans “with great dismay” and was trying to lobby the government not to ban fans from matches.
The catering industry, which has been hit hard by closures during the pandemic, also slammed the latest measures.
“The limit has been reached. Entrepreneurs are furious,” Rober Willemsen, chairman of the trade association Koninklijke Horeca Nederland (KHN), told NOS.
Meanwhile the official arrival of Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas as he is known in Dutch — scheduled on Saturday in the historic central city of Utrecht has already been cancelled due to the spike in cases.
The Netherlands on Friday reported 16,287 Covid-19 cases over the previous 24 hours, 44 less than on Thursday when the figure of 16,364 smashed the previous record set in December 2020.
The nation of 17 million people has reported 2.2 million cases and 18,612 deaths since the start of the pandemic last year.
Hospitals have warned they will not be able to make it through the winter under the current conditions.
The Covid spike comes despite the fact that 82 percent of Dutch people over the age of 12 have been fully vaccinated.
Unvaccinated people account for most intensive care cases (69 percent) and hospital admissions (55 percent), but waning vaccine efficiency, particularly in the elderly, has also been blamed for the surge.
The Dutch government says it will start giving booster jabs in December.
Covid case numbers are on the rise across much of Europe with neighbouring Germany also mulling fresh restrictions.
Dutch and German police have busted a criminal gang who made video tutorials on how to bomb cash machines, only to blow themselves up in the process, officials said Thursday.
One suspect was killed and another badly hurt in the Dutch city of Utrecht when a trial run went wrong at an illegal “training centre” for explosives attacks on ATMs, the EU’s police agency Europol said.
Police eventually made nine arrests during an 18-month operation targeting the gang, which is linked to at least 15 bombings on ATMs in Germany resulting in losses of 2.15 million euros ($2.5 million), it said.
“The criminals were making video tutorials which were given in person to other criminals,” a Europol spokeswoman told AFP.
“The main suspect — a 29-year-old — blew himself up when filming a tutorial video. His accomplice — a 24-year-old — was seriously injured and taken into custody,” she said.
The police hunt began after officers in Osnabruck, Germany, identified “suspicious orders” of ATM machines from a German company, said Europol and its sister judicial agency Eurojust in a joint statement.
Surveillance led police across the border to Utrecht in the Netherlands where the 29- and 24-year-old suspects were allegedly running the training centre.
“The pair was ordering different models of ATMs and recording tutorials on how to most effectively blow them up,” the EU agencies said.
“The cash machines were blown open using homemade explosive devices, posing a serious risk for residents and bystanders,” they added.
The two men were blown up “during one of the test runs of an explosion.”
Dutch police aided by Europol arrested three people during raids in the area around Utrecht, Amsterdam and The Hague on Tuesday, during which seven properties were also searched.
Those three suspects will be extradited to Germany. The other six people were arrested in the Netherlands during the past year.
Europol said that bomb attacks against ATMs were a “growing concern” in Europe.
Dutch authorities have culled some 190,000 chickens after a highly-contagious strain of bird flu broke out at least two poultry farms, the agriculture ministry said Sunday.
Health workers slaughtered around 100,000 hens at a poultry farm at Hekendorp outside Gouda while 90,000 chicks were culled at Witmarsum, in northern Friesland.
In both cases “a highly-contagious strain of the H5 variant” was suspected, the ministry said in a statement.
There were no other poultry farms within a one kilometre radius of the outbreaks, it added.
“Both farms were cleared to prevent further spread of the disease,” the ministry said.
Seasonal bird flu has been detected at various farms around the Netherlands since October, blamed mainly on migratory birds.
Dutch Agriculture Minister Carola Schouten on October 23 imposed preventative indoor containment on all commercial poultry farms after two dead swans were discovered carrying the highly contagious H5N8 variety of bird flu.
The new measures come as the Netherlands also battles a second wave of Covid-19 which continued to infect around 6,000 people a day.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was unable to visit his dying mother in her final weeks because he obeyed coronavirus restrictions against visiting care homes, his office said Monday.
The news about Rutte emerged as Britain was gripped by a political row over allegations that the top aide to premier Boris Johnson broke COVID-19 rules to travel cross-country to stay on his parents’ estate.
Rutte on Monday announced the death of 96-year-old Mieke Rutte-Dilling in a home in The Hague on May 13, nearly two months after the government shut all such institutions to the public on March 20.
“The prime minister has complied with all directives”, Rutte’s spokesman told AFP when asked about reports that the premier had stuck to the rules and so not seen his mother before she died.
His mother did not die of coronavirus although there had earlier been an outbreak of the disease in the home where she was living, Dutch media reported.
Rutte earlier announced his mother’s death, saying that “in addition to the great sadness and all fond memories, my family and I also have a feeling of gratitude that we were allowed to have her with us for so long.”
“We have now said goodbye to her in a family circle and hope to be able to deal with this great loss in peace in the near future,” he added.
Dutch authorities allowed individual visits to some care homes from Monday, a measure that will be extended to all of them on June 15.
The Netherlands — which has imposed an “intelligent lockdown” with less strict conditions than many other European countries — has so far recorded 5,830 coronavirus deaths and 45,445 infections
Dutch police found a father and six adult children hidden in the basement of a remote farmhouse where they had reportedly spent years “waiting for the end of time”, officials said Tuesday.
They discovered a man, believed to be the father of the family, and his children aged between 18 and 25 near the village of Ruinerwold in the northern province of Drenthe.
Local media said the family was found after one of the sons went to a nearby pub in a confused state, drank five beers and then asked for help, saying he had not been outside for nine years.
Police arrested a 58-year-old man at the scene for failing to cooperate with the investigation, but he was not the father.
“I have never come across anything like this before,” local mayor Roger de Groot told a press conference.
“Police investigated after receiving a tip-off from somebody who was concerned about the people’s living conditions” and discovered the adults, de Groot said.
“They lived an isolated lifestyle,” he said, adding that they had been living on the homestead for the past nine years and several of the children “had not been taken up in the birthing register” or officially registered.
Many questions were unanswered and police are investigating “all scenarios”, the mayor added.
The family meanwhile had been taken to a nearby holiday park while the investigation continued, reports said.
‘Living in a Basement’
Local news station RTV Drenthe, which first reported the story, said the family “have been living in a basement for years, waiting for the ‘end of times’.”
Some of those freed “had no idea that other people existed,” the station added.
Police were alerted after a man of around 25, believed to be the family’s oldest son, walked into a village bar on Sunday evening.
The dishevelled man, unwashed and wearing old clothes said “he has not been ‘outside’ for the past nine years,” bar owner Chris Westerbeek told RTV Drenthe.
“He said he’d never been to school and seemed very confused. He spoke in a childish way,” said Westerbeek.
The man told Westerbeek he ran away from home and urgently needed help, “so I phoned the police.”
Upon investigation, police discovered a hidden staircase behind a cupboard leading to a cellar where a man said to be the family’s father and five others, believed to be his children, were hiding.
Aerial photos showed a remote farmhouse surrounded by fields.
The family had no contact with the outside world and were completely self-reliant with a vegetable garden and a goat, RTV Drenthe said.
“The father had a stroke a few years ago and was lying in bed. There was no sign of his wife,” RTV Drenthe reported.
Neighbours told the station they did not know the family and they only knew that one man lived on the premises.
Police declined to give further details when contacted by AFP.
“All scenarios are being investigated. At this point we cannot give further information,” local police said on Twitter.
Climate marchers handed in a lawsuit to Shell’s headquarters in the Netherlands on Friday aimed at forcing the oil giant to meet targets in the Paris accord.
Dozens of chanting activists went to the Anglo-Dutch firm’s base in The Hague, where they delivered a legal summons with a court date set for April 17.
Shell greeted the protesters with coffee from an electric drinks van. It said that while it “shares concerns about the climate” it “believes in a solution outside the courtroom.”
“This is a unique case,” Roger Cox, the lawyer for Dutch climate group Milieudefensie, told AFP.
“We are taking Shell to court because it’s not keeping to the aims of the Paris climate agreements. This way we are trying to prevent huge damage.”
The environmental groups say some 17,200 people have registered as co-complainants in the case, which Cox said would be the first of its kind.
Other groups involved in the case include ActionAid Netherlands, Both Ends, Fossielvrij NL, Greenpeace NL and Young Friends of the Earth NL.
The protesters carried banners with slogans such as “We Shell overcome — eventually” and red posters saying “Shell is as green as this poster.”
They also mounted a giant version of the summons with the signatures of the thousands of plaintiffs at Shell’s headquarters near the city centre.
Shell Netherlands CEO Marjan van Loon addressed the protesters outside the building, saying that fighting climate change was a “team sport” , the company said in a Twitter post with a photo.
“I would like to answer every finger, whether it is an index finger or a middle finger, with an outstretched hand,” it quoted her as saying.
In a summary of the 250-page document handed over to Shell, the groups said that under Dutch law Shell was unlawfully endangering peoples’ lives by not acting to prevent global warming.
“Internal and external documents show that Shell has known about climate change at least since the 1950s and has been aware of its large-scale and serious consequences at least since 1986,” it said.
“Although Shell knew, it has not taken any serious steps to minimise its share in climate change,” the document added.
Cox said that unlike previous cases which sought financial compensation for the effects of climate change, this one involves asking the judge to order Shell to ensure its activities have zero per cent carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
Shell is responsible for 1.7 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions between 1988-2015, according to a peer-reviewed study of the 100 most polluting companies released two years ago.
It is also among five oil and gas majors that have spent more than $1 billion on lobbying against climate legislation since the Paris deal.
Shell’s plans for tackling climate change are “not consistent with the Paris goals”, said Harjeet Singh, who heads global climate activities at ActionAid.
“We need to expose Shell on this and in fact what it has been doing all this while is hiding and distorting facts and lobbying against climate policy,” Singh told AFP.
Climate change is a pressing issue in the Netherlands, where at least a third of the country lies below sea level.
The Dutch government was ordered by a court last year to slash greenhouse gases by at least 25 per cent by 2020, following a legal challenge by another environmental group.
Thousands of Dutch students have rallied in Amsterdam and The Hague in recent weeks, urging the government to take action, with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte meeting the group’s leaders.
“A shooting occurred on the 24 Oktoberplein in Utrecht… Multiple people have been injured. The surrounding area has been cordoned off and we are investigating the matter,” Utrecht police said on Twitter.
“It is a shooting incident in a tram. Several trauma helicopters have been deployed to provide help.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte cancelled a meeting with his ruling coalition and was being briefed on the situation, officials said.
Police later said that “a possible terrorist motive is part of the investigation”.
The head of the Dutch national counter-terrorism service, Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, said on Twitter that he was having “crisis consultations” over the incident.
“NCTV is monitoring the situation in #Utrecht. In close contact with local authorities. We cannot rule out the terrorist motive. The crisis team is activated,” he said.
“Offender still fugitive,” Aalbersberg said, adding that the terror threat level had been raised to the maximum of five in Utrecht for the next 18 hours.
Armed police surround tram
Local media showed photographs of masked, armed police and emergency vehicles surrounding a tram that had stopped near a road bridge.
Tram traffic in the area was halted, operator Qbuzz was quoted as saying by the ANP news agency.
The Netherlands has been largely spared the kind of attacks which have rocked its closest European neighbours in the past few years, but there has been a series of recent scares.
In August, a 19-year-old Afghan with a German residence permit stabbed and injured two American tourists at Amsterdam’s busy Central Station before being shot and wounded.
In September, Dutch investigators said they had arrested seven people and foiled a “major attack” on civilians at a major event in the Netherlands.
They said they had found a large quantity of bomb-making materials including fertiliser likely to be used in a car bomb.
The men were arrested in the cities of Arnhem and Weert.
In June, two terror suspects were arrested while close to carrying out attacks including at an iconic bridge in Rotterdam and in France, prosecutors said.
The men aged 22 and 28, who were of Moroccan origin, made a film at the Erasmus bridge in which they sang a martyrdom song, they said.
Four Nigerian women on Tuesday launched a court case in the Netherlands against oil giant Shell for alleged complicity in the execution of their husbands by the military regime in the 1990s.
The civil case has been brought by Esther Kiobel — the widow of Barinem Kiobel who was hanged in 1995 along with writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and seven others — and is backed by Amnesty International.
“My husband had a good heart. Now I am a poor widow who has lost everything,” Esther Kiobel was quoted as telling the court in The Hague by Dutch news agency ANP.
“The abuses that my family and I went through were a horrible experience that has traumatised us to this day,” added Kiobel, who fled Nigeria in 1998 and now lives in the United States.
Kiobel and one of the other widows were in court for opening arguments. The other two women whose husbands were killed were denied visas to attend.
Kiobel added in a statement issued through Amnesty that “over the years, Shell has continually fought to make sure this case is not heard in court. They have the resources to fight me instead of doing justice for my husband.”
The Dutch court writ alleges that Shell helped in the arrest of the men, who had sought to peacefully disrupt oil development in the Ogoni region because of health and environmental impacts.
Saro-Wiwa, president and founder of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), and eight fellow activists were executed on November 10, 1995 after a military tribunal convicted them of the murder of four traditional Ogoni chiefs.
“These women believe that their husbands would still be alive today were it not for the brazen self-interest of Shell, which encouraged the Nigerian government’s bloody crackdown on protesters even when it knew the human cost,” Amnesty’s Mark Dummett said.
Shell denies all involvement in the men’s executions.
“The executions carried out by a military government at that time have deeply affected us,” a spokesman for the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited said.
Shell said it had urged the Nigerian presidency to grant leniency “and we regret that no response was given.”
The Ogoni movement was set up in 1990 to fight against pollution and the destruction of the ecosystem of the 500,000-strong Ogoni community, which lives on an oil-rich parcel of land on the northern edge of the Niger Delta.
The executions provoked a global outcry and led to the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth. The west African country was re-admitted with the return of civilian rule in 1999.