The Netherlands reacts to the partial lifting of the coronavirus lockdown
Seeing as most of the information had already been leaked, the news from Tuesday’s coronavirus press conference didn’t come as much of a surprise. With Prime Minister Mark Rutte announcing the partial reopening of higher education and the catering industry, as well as the relaxation of the household visitors rule, it looks as though there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel.
While businesses and mayors across the Netherlands had been pleading with the government to ease some restrictions for weeks now, the reactions to the news are rather mixed.
Medical experts wanted the Dutch government to wait
At the press conference on April 13, Rutte had said that restrictions would not be lifted until it appeared as though the peak of the third wave had passed. However, Tuesday’s press conference came on the same day that the Netherlands saw an increase in hospital admissions as well as an R-number value of 1,06.
The Outbreak Management Team (OMT) had advised the Dutch government to wait a little longer for easing any measures, as Aura Timen - head of the Centre for National Coordination of Infectious Disease Control and member of the OMT - explained to the NOS that the country was not yet “in the declining leg of the epidemic.” She called the decision to lift restrictions a political one.
Healthcare unions have also spoken out against the decision, with FNV Zorg & Welzijn saying the government is playing “Russian roulette” with hospitals. The National Acute Care Network, on the other hand, is more optimistic about the plan: “There is now a stable level. If it stays that way, we think that cautious, light easing is possible,” said a spokesperson.
Dutch police worried about enforcing 6 pm closure for terraces
Dutch police and community service officers (BOAs) are also concerned about having to enforce the new measures at terraces and in parks. While the unions of both groups have said they are pleased to see the curfew lifted and terraces open, they are concerned about having to enforce the strict 6 pm closure and what it could mean for crowds in parks and other public spaces.
Jan Struijs, chairman of the Dutch Police Union, explained that the gradual reopening of society will not lead to less work for police officers: “The weather will be nice in the near future, and if the terraces have to close at 6 pm, people will probably continue the fun elsewhere. For the police and BOAs, the work will not slow down.”
Business owners have also been asked to help disperse crowds after terraces close at 6pm, but Johan de Vos, owner of two bars in Breda, has said he has no idea how to enforce the rule. “That will be the biggest challenge,” he explains, "It will be difficult to have to argue with people at 6 pm and explain the stupidity of the rules."
Businesses across the Netherlands happy to return to work
The Christian National Trade Union (CNV) have supported the easing of the lockdown, saying it “comes not a day too soon:” “Too many hospitality and retail businesses are currently on the brink of collapse after months of closure, threatening to cost many people their jobs.” Retail organisation INretail have also supported the decision, saying it provided businesses with “more opportunities for much-needed turnover."
While The Netherlands Trade Union Confederation (FNV) is pleased to see bars and restaurants welcome customers again, director Edwin Vlek says opening terraces will offer little relief to businesses. “We are disappointed by the limitations this entails, as a result of which the easing does not directly contribute to the recovery of the sector - only to a minimal extent,” he says.
The chairman of the VSNU university umbrella organisation was also relieved to hear that students would finally be able to return to in-person classes, calling it “a boost for our students,” and emphasising that universities “will do everything they can to facilitate more physical learning as soon as possible.”