Prime Minister Mark Rutte eased the Netherlands’ COVID-19 lockdown restrictions amidst a wave of backlash from Dutch residents.
The Wednesday announcement lifts some of the most heavy-handed COVID-19 measures placed in Europe.
Dutch hospitality settings, including bars, restaurants, and museums, have remained closed since December 18th due to the government’s meaningless effort to curb the spread of the omicron variant.
The restrictions failed to slow the spread of the milder, more contagious variant, and hospitality venues will open for the first time this year.
Netherlands to ease Covid restrictions despite growing case numbers https://t.co/F7v6C5dVh9
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) January 26, 2022
The Netherlands is further easing coronavirus restrictions, allowing bars, restaurants, museums, theaters and other venues to reopen from Wednesday for the first time this year. https://t.co/cjROMffGKH
— AP Europe (@AP_Europe) January 25, 2022
Netherlands admits it’s Covid restrictions failed. https://t.co/5vC0Bfqk74
— Ghanem Nuseibeh (@gnuseibeh) January 25, 2022
AP News explained how it wasn’t all good news for Dutch citizens:
“We are taking a big step today to unlock the Netherlands while the infections numbers are really going through the roof,” Rutte said Tuesday.
The announcement wasn’t all good news for the beleaguered hospitality and cultural sectors, with the opening hours limited to 10 p.m., while professional sports teams will only be allowed to fill stadiums to a third of their normal capacities.
Soccer clubs and administrators protested the move even before it was officially announced, calling it in a joint statement “a proposal without perspective.”
The relaxation of restrictions follows widespread protests in recent weeks by business owners ranging from the Van Gogh Museum to local cafes at being excluded from am earlier easing of pandemic restrictions.
The new measures apply for six weeks, but the government will review their effect on infection rates after three weeks.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte urged Dutch residents to stick to the rules, saying “It is now up to us all to ensure that we don’t have to hit the brakes again then.”
That’s not reassuring language the Dutch government won’t reimpose restrictions upon news of another ‘scary variant.’
But the fierce resistance to some of Europe’s harshest restrictions forced the Dutch government to concede for now.
Mr Rutte, who has faced growing calls for a relaxation of restrictions in recent weeks amid falling deaths and admissions to intensive care, added that the new rules will be effective until 8 March.
Cafes, bars and restaurants will be allowed to open until 10pm, though to gain entry patrons will be required to show a negative test result, prove they are vaccinated or have recently recovered from a coronavirus infection.
Nightclubs will remain closed, and capacity at sporting and cultural events will be limited to 1,250 people.
The reopening follows a wave of anger from many hospitality sector employees, who were left disappointed by the government’s decision to allow shops, gyms, hairdressers and sex workers to resume business on 15 January while their sector was kept in lockdown.
Cafes in several cities opened in defiance of the restrictions the weekend before last, and dozens of museums and theatres opened as beauty salons for a day in protest.
Public support for the strict measures has also waned steadily over the past month and large demonstrations against the rules have become more frequent in the capital, Amsterdam.
Mr Rutte alluded to this anger during his news conference, telling reporters that the government was “consciously looking for the limits of what is possible, because of the great tensions and cries for help in recent days”.
On January 24th, the Netherlands set a record-high for daily COVID-19 cases.
Yet, widespread protests and backlash forced the government to lift some restrictions.
It’s up to Dutch residents to keep the pressure on their representatives to ease COVID-19 measures further.