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The Netherlands is under strict lockdown over Christmas and New Year

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Netherlands is in another strict lockdown, its third since the beginning of the pandemic. And coming right before Christmas, this measure has cast a shadow over the holidays. Many are blaming what they say has been the government's knee-jerk handling of the pandemic. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley sends this report.

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PRIME MINISTER MARK RUTTE: (Speaking Dutch).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte spoke to his nation Friday night. "We are in a somber mood," he said, "for once again, the Netherlands must go into lockdown." Rutte said it was to avoid the worst, as omicron is spreading much faster than feared. The lockdown will last at least through mid-January, with only grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations open as normal. Households are limited to two visitors, four on Christmas and New Year's Day. Thijs Neimanstverdriet is a reporter for the Dutch daily newspaper NCR.

THIJS NEIMANSTVERDRIET: Frankly, there's quite a bit of despair in the Netherlands. People really don't see a way out. I mean, we were all promised that after the whole vaccination scheme, things would clear up and we would be more or less liberated. And now it turns out we're almost back where we were at the beginning of the pandemic.

BEARDSLEY: Eighty-six percent of adults are vaccinated in the Netherlands, though the country lags far behind its neighbors on booster shots. Neimanstverdriet says the Dutch government also let down its guard on face masks, which were completely dropped after the summer.

NEIMANSTVERDRIET: We had this friend from the States coming over visiting us. I think it was back in late October. And she was just shocked to see people walking around as if there was nothing going on, as if it were normal times, no pandemic.

BEARDSLEY: In late November, the government made face masks mandatory again and put in place a curfew as cases began to explode.

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BEARDSLEY: That brought out violent protesters in several Dutch cities who set cars on fire and battled police. Neimanstverdriet says the government has handled the pandemic in a sloppy and erratic manner. He says southern European countries have done a much better job.

NEIMANSTVERDRIET: I was in Italy over the summer, and they were very disciplined in wearing face masks and sticking to the rules. And they seem to be taking it really seriously.

BEARDSLEY: Neimanstverdriet says the so-called efficient northern countries have fared poorly in comparison. And so far, the figures bear that out. For example, with similar populations, Britain has around 89,000 infections a day and Italy fewer than 8,000. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOEY FEHRENBACH'S "INDIGO ROAD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.