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The Netherlands began a 4-week nationwide lockdown on Sunday to try to slow the surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant.
Nonessential stores, bars, and restaurants will be closed until Jan. 14, and schools and universities will be closed until Jan. 9, according to The Associated Press.
The lockdown will also disrupt holiday gatherings. Residents can have only two visitors throughout the lockdown period, except for Christmas and New Year's, when they can have four visitors.
"I can hear the whole of the Netherlands sighing," Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Saturday.
"All this, exactly 1 week before Christmas. Another Christmas that is completely different from what we want," he said. "Very bad news again for all those businesses and cultural institutions that rely on the holidays."
Rutte called the decision "unavoidable" due to the "fifth wave caused by the Omicron variant that is bearing down on us."
Other countries are putting new rules into place as the variant spreads across Europe, with some nations reporting their highest daily case numbers since the pandemic began, the AP reported.
The UK, France, and Austria tightened travel rules and mask mandates. Denmark has closed theaters, concert halls, and museums. Ireland began a curfew for pubs and limited attendance at indoor and outdoor events.
In a new technical brief, the World Health Organization reported that the Omicron variant has been detected in 89 countries, and cases are doubling every 1½ to 3 days in places with community transmission.
Scientists are still answering questions about the variant, including how effective the current COVID-19 vaccines are and whether Omicron leads to severe illness. But the highly transmissible nature of Omicron means it will likely overtake the Delta variant in countries where it is spreading locally, the WHO said.
For instance, Omicron is now the dominant coronavirus variant in London, the AP reported. It will likely become the dominant form of the coronavirus in the U.S. this winter as well.
"It's going to take over," Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday on CNN's State of the Union.
"It is going to be a tough few weeks to months as we get deeper into the winter," he continued.
The U.S. is averaging nearly 130,000 new cases per day now, which is up from an average of about 70,000 new cases last month. More than 68,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 across the U.S., and more than 20% of intensive care beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Fauci urged people to get vaccinated, get booster shots, and wear masks while indoors and traveling. He said the protection from the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines is "quite good, particularly against severe disease."
About 65% of the eligible U.S. population is considered fully vaccinated, according to the latest CDC data. About 32% of eligible adults have received a booster.
"A big message for today is, if you've had vaccines and a booster, you're very well-protected against Omicron causing you severe disease," Francis Collins, MD, the director of the National Institutes of Health, told CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday.
"So anybody listening to this who is in that 60% of Americans who are eligible for a booster but haven't yet gotten one, this is the week to do it," he said. "Do not wait."
The Associated Press: "Netherlands 'going into lockdown again' to curb omicron."
World Health Organization: "Enhancing Readiness for Omicron (B.1.1.529): Technical Brief and Priority Actions for Member States."
CNN Transcripts: "State of the Union," Dec. 19, 2021.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Hospital Utilization."
CDC: "COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States."
CBS News: "Transcript: NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins on 'Face the Nation,' December 19, 2021."
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Cite this: Omicron Surge Leads Netherlands to Impose Weeks-Long Lockdown - Medscape - Dec 20, 2021.