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26th Feb 2024

Dutch mayors protest strict lockdown measures

  • Bars, restaurants, museums, and cultural centres have remained closed, while some shops reopened last week (Photo: Mitchel Lensink)
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Strict lockdown measures in the Netherlands have pushed a group of 30 mayors to press the national government for a loosening of restrictions.

In an open letter published in De Volkskrant newspaper on Thursday (20 January), they write that a long-term perspective is needed, saying that the national government has supplanted all other problems and interest in society to keep the infection rate low.

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"That is acceptable for a short period, but not after two years," they said.

Since December, when the more infectious Omicron variant led to record-high infection rates, the Netherlands has been in a hard lockdown.

Several other countries in Europe have registered a record number of Covid-19 infections, with Germany, France, and Italy reporting almost 800,000 cases on Tuesday.

But restrictions look increasingly ineffective, and with Omicron seeming less deadly, most EU member states have decided to keep large parts of the economy at least partly open.

Not so in the Netherlands, which maintains among the toughest Covid regimes in the world.

This week, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) reported a record number of 42,000 cases.

But the number of Covid patients in hospitals have dropped below 1,200, down from 2,850 in December.

Last week, some stores were allowed to reopen, but bars, restaurants, museums, and cultural centres have remained closed in the Netherlands.

Some museums have reopened as yoga or hairdressers' studios in protest this week.

A leading centre for public debate in Amsterdam has registered itself as a religious community, which are exempt from tough restrictions.

"Municipal lawyers are now working overtime to find out whether a yoga studio in a museum or a hair salon in a theatre should be allowed or banned under national emergency legislation," the mayors wrote.

The signatories include all the mayors of the top 10 biggest cities, including Femke Halsema, the mayor of Amsterdam.

They wrote most of them will continue to enforce cabinet measures but ask the cabinet to provide restaurants, bars, and cultural institutions with a perspective on reopening.

"We don't want to encourage further chaos, nor do we want to worsen the situation by unequally favouring one industry over the other," they said.

But they warned against what they described as a "repressive" governing style that has pitched citizens and leaders against each other.

And they asked the government to make a proportional trade-off between health effects and "people's private lives and the social and economic fabric of society."

WHO: Omicron to infect over half of Europeans in two months

The World Health Organization said Omicron is likely to infect more than half of the population in Europe within the next two months, threatening healthcare systems. It warned that it is too early to consider Covid as an endemic virus.

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