Calculated risk: Dutch lockdown eased, but curfew extended

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People enjoy the sun in Vondelpark after a sudden change in weather brought spring temperatures around 16 degrees Celsius, or 61 Fahrenheit, to Amsterdam, Netherlands, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

THE HAGUE – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Tuesday extended the Netherlands' coronavirus curfew until March 15 while also relaxing some lockdown measures in what he called a calculated risk to make the year-long crisis “bearable.”

“We are on our way to better times,” Rutte told the nation of 17 million in a nationally televised press conference.

Rutte said high school students can return to their classrooms for at least one day a week starting March 1. Vocational education also will be allowed to partially reopen, although universities will remain closed.

Rutte is seeking to strike a balance between keeping a lid on infections while also easing restrictions in his lockdown-weary nation, which is heading toward a general election on March 17.

“We are at a time when we have to be prepared to take a little bit more risk,” he said.

Along with high schools and vocational colleges starting to reopen next week, hairdressers, masseurs and people in other “contact professions” will be allowed to go back to work. Everybody under age 27 will be allowed to participate in outdoor team sports from March 3.

Very limited numbers of people will be allowed to visit non-essential shops if they make appointments at least four hours in advance.

The government’s easing still left many businesses such as bars and restaurants shuttered until at least March 8.