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Dutch PM dashes hopes of larger gatherings for Christmas

A man entering the national library in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, passes a sign informing visitors to wear mandatory face masks. Wearing face masks in publicly accessible indoor venues such as libraries, museums became obligatory in the Netherlands on Dec. 1, 2020, when a new temporary law underpinning existing government coronavirus restrictions came into force. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
A man entering the national library in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, passes a sign informing visitors to wear mandatory face masks. Wearing face masks in publicly accessible indoor venues such as libraries, museums became obligatory in the Netherlands on Dec. 1, 2020, when a new temporary law underpinning existing government coronavirus restrictions came into force. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

THE HAGUE – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte dashed hopes Tuesday of large gatherings of family and friends to celebrate Christmas, saying rising coronavirus infections mean that existing restrictions of a maximum of three visitors per day to people's homes will stay in place over the holidays.

“What can we do with Christmas? Unfortunately, the answer is not more than the last few months," Rutte said in a nationally televised news conference.

His comments came hours after the Dutch public health institute reported what it called a “worrying rise" in the number of coronavirus infections in the last week.

Rutte warned that if infections don't start declining again, he couldn't rule out tightening the current “partial lockdown” in the Netherlands before Christmas.

The health institute said the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases rose by more than 9,000 to 43,103 in a week. More people were tested in the last week due to a change in the rules for access, but the percentage of positive tests also rose from 11.1% to 11.6%.

In the same week, the number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths dropped from 406 to 338. The nationwide death toll since the pandemic first swept into the Netherlands is approaching 10,000.

The number of nursing homes with at least one confirmed COVID-19 case also rose, with 100 homes recording a confirmed case over the last week, up from 77 the week before.

The Netherlands has been in a partial lockdown since mid-October, when the country was recording some of Europe's highest infections rates. The closures of all bars and restaurants along with restrictions on the number of people who could gather at home and outdoors brought the infection rate down, but the decline has stagnated in recent weeks.

Schools in the Netherlands have remained open.

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