Reactions to Dutch government’s relaxation of coronavirus measures
At the press conference on February 23, the Dutch government confirmed the various rumours that had been circulating since Monday, announcing that the national curfew and lockdown were to be extended, but that there would be some relaxations for schools and specific industries.
Approximately 6,3 million people tuned in to hear the latest updates. This is how businesses, industries and experts have reacted to the news.
Dutch PM says easing restrictions at this stage is “risky”
With secondary schools reopening and hairdressers, beauticians, masseuses, tattoo artists and driving instructors returning to work, many across the Netherlands may be heaving a sigh of relief: the country is finally on its way out of lockdown.
But Rutte was clear in his speech, repeatedly reminding the public that “we are still in an incredibly difficult phase.” He called these relaxations “risks,” but said they were necessary because “we are getting fed up.”
Medical experts are confused: “it’s a political decision”
The Dutch lockdown has been in place for over two months now, and yet very little progress had been made in regards to the number of coronavirus infections and deaths in the Netherlands. Various health experts are therefore critical of the government’s decision to announce further relaxations.
Aura Timen, head of the National Coordination for Infectious Disease Control National Institute for Health and Environment at the RIVM, has called the Rutte’s move a “political decision,” saying the recent increase in weekly infections “points to a third wave.” A number of epidemiologists across the country agree with Timen’s assessment, with Amrish Baidjoe saying it’s clear the easing is “politically motivated.”
Diederik Gommers, chairman of the Dutch Association for Intensive Care, told De Telegraaf that, while he and his colleagues also feel the relaxations are necessary, he is concerned about another rise in the number of hospitalisations.
Universities across the Netherlands are frustrated
The relaxations will see a lot of workers in contact professions finally return to work next month. Tattoo artists and driving instructors across the country are relieved, and tattoo shops and hairdressers have already seen customers snap up all available appointments. However, the decision to allow hairdressers to reopen when Dutch universities have been provided with no chance to ease any measures has been met with some confusion and frustration.
Maarten van Dorp, president of student union ASVA, doesn’t understand why primary and secondary schools have reopened while universities remain closed: “Apparently hairdressers are considered more important than a whole generation of students." Leader of the GroenLinks political party, Jesse Klaver, is also confused by the decision: "You can have your nails done, but a student is not allowed to study in the university library.”
Universities also note the emotional and mental strain that is placed on students by being forced to work from home: “There are many who no longer like it. We notice this, for example, in the great demand that is made on our student psychologists,” says Geert ten Dam, chairman of the Executive Board of the University of Amsterdam.
Large shops feel shopping by appointment is too restrictive
The last two press conferences have also seen relaxations announced for shops in the Netherlands. But strict rules apply to the latest relaxation: while shoppers can once again go into their favourite stores, they’ll have to make an appointment at least four hours in advance, and will only be allowed inside for a maximum of 10 minutes. Plus, shops will only be able to allow two customers per floor of their store.
Dutch retail giant Hema is happy to see the government announce shopping by appointment, but is disappointed by the strict regulations: “If this is it, two people every ten minutes, then that is of no use to us,” said a spokesperson for the company.
The Dutch Retail Council RND (Raad Nederlandse Detailhandel) is also less than pleased by the decision: “The measure will not provide relief for the vast majority of stores in the Netherlands," it says.