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Dutch PM to keep coronavirus lockdown measures as cases ease

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte looks on during a meeting on the second day of a two-day EU summit, in Brussels, Belgium October 16, 2020. Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via REUTERS/Files

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The number of new coronavirus cases in the Netherlands declined around 15% over the past week, health authorities said on Tuesday, but Prime Minister Mark Rutte was expected to announce few changes to the country’s current lockdown measures.

In a weekly update, the National Institute for Health (RIVM) said there were 37,706 new cases in the week to Nov. 17, down from 43,621 new cases in the week to Nov. 10 and the lowest since early October.

“(However) the number of people with a positive test result remains very high,” the RIVM said, with more than 150 infections per 100,000 people in nearly every region of the country.

The Netherlands entered partial lockdown in mid-October, and Rutte’s government tightened measures further on Nov. 3, shortly after daily new cases peaked at above 11,000 on Oct. 30.

Public gatherings are banned currently, face masks are “strongly recommended” inside stores, and restaurants operate only for takeaway. Schools remain open.

National broadcaster NOS reported on Tuesday that Rutte may relax some of the additional measures taken on Nov. 3, including the closure of zoos and museums.

There are currently 2,146 COVID-19 patients in Dutch hospitals, with 576 in intensive care. The country’s medical system has been strained and routine procedures are on pause, but on current forecasts it will not face a shortage of beds.

Testing speed and capacity have improved, and this week authorities opened a new mass testing centre in Utrecht, the second of seven planned around the country.

Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Gareth Jones