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Dutch Move Toward Further Easing of Coronavirus Lockdown

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Dutch zoos and theme parks will be allowed to reopen next week under strict conditions and bars and cafes can extend the opening hours of their outdoor terraces, if hospital and intensive care admissions continue to fall, caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced Tuesday.

Rutte said the country will move to the second phase of its gradual reemergence from a lockdown that has lasted months on May 19 if the numbers have declined by 20% from peaks in late April. 

If they don't, the relaxation won't go ahead. But Rutte said he expects the current downward trends to continue and the easing of the lockdown to go ahead.

It is, "Step Two with a pause button," Rutte said in a nationally televised news conference.

The second step in the government's reopening road map also means that swimming pools, gyms and other indoor sports venues can reopen, with strict conditions on visitor numbers, and sex workers can resume their work. Open-air museums and theaters will be allowed to open.

Earlier Tuesday, the national public health institute reported that admissions to hospital intensive care units declined by 22% over the last seven days compared with the previous week.

In the same period, the number of positive coronavirus tests fell by 10% to 47,108, a decline caused in part by fewer people getting tests because of school holidays.

Neighboring Belgium announced earlier Tuesday that it too is  relaxing its lockdown as of next month. 

Dutch bars and cafes reopened their outdoor terraces last month, under strict conditions, after a six-month lockdown.

Last month also saw huge crowds gather in Dutch cities, flouting social distancing rules, to celebrate the national King's Day holiday.

Underscoring the need to stick to basic hygiene and social distancing rules, Rutte said that local health authorities have attributed 17 large new clusters of infections in Amsterdam to the King's Day celebrations.

The government also said that from May 15 it is easing its general advice not to travel to foreign countries and will allow people to travel to countries designated as safe because of their low infection rates.

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