Dutch to ditch most facemasks rules as COVID cases fall

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Amsterdam
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(Adds 'million' to number of vaccinations in paragraph 9)

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -Face masks will mostly no longer be required across the Netherlands and other restrictions will ease from next week, after a drop in COVID-19 cases, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday.

Most limits on group sizes will also be lifted from June 26, as long as people can keep at least 1.5 metres (5 ft) apart, he told a news conference.

"This is a special moment", Rutte said. "Many times I have stood here to tell you what you can't do. But now we can focus on what is possible."

No new limits will be set on the number of guests allowed in stores, bars and restaurants, Rutte said, as long as they keep their distance, or show that they have been vaccinated or have a negative test.

"We can expect a beautiful summer", Rutte said. "But we need to remain cautious. There are many uncertainties towards the autumn. You can always be stabbed in the back by a new variant."

People will still need to wear masks on public transport and in airports, where distancing is not possible.

Coronavirus infections in the Netherlands have dropped to their lowest levels in nine months in recent weeks as the rollout of vaccinations has gathered pace.

Earlier this month authorities let bars and restaurants reopen.

Around 13 million vaccinations have been administered in the country of 17.5 million people as of Friday. The government has said it is aiming to offer each Dutch adult at least one shot by mid-July.

Almost 1.7 million coronavirus infections have been confirmed in the Netherlands, and more than 27,000 deaths.

(Reporting by Bart Meijer and Toby Sterling, editing by Louise Heavens and Andrew Heavens)

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