Pressure mounts on new cabinet to reopen shops and cafes
Pressure is mounting on the government to reopen non-essential shops, fitness centres and cafes and bars ahead of this week’s crunch decision on the current coronavirus measures.
The Netherlands currently has some of the strictest controls in Europe in place, yet the number of infections continues to rise and other EU countries are largely functioning as normal, critics say.
Government health advisors are meeting on Wednesday to discuss the latest situation and the prime minister and new health minister Ernst Kuipers are due to host a press conference on Friday evening to outline what changes, if any, they plan to make.
A number of local councils have written to the cabinet urging ministers to reopen non-essential shops, saying they fear for the future of local retailers if the closures continue.
In some towns, shopkeepers opened last weekend in defiance of the closure rules. ‘Our backs are against the wall,’ shoe shop owner Jenke told RTL Nieuws.
Non-essential shops, cafes, museums and cinemas were closed mid December as one of a number of measures to head off the surge in coronavirus cases while the booster campaign got up to speed.
Yvonne Tol, who owns a chain of tanning studios, told the Financieele Dagblad that there is no more money left in her company. ‘We have had to use up all our reserves over the past two years,’ she said. ‘And we owners have put in hundreds of thousands of euros of our own money.’
The studios have been closed for six months out of the past two years, while turnover fell 50% last year, when compared with the pre-coronavirus period.
Employers organisations too have called for a rethink. ‘Employers cannot cope with the lockdown any longer, nor can society, and the rest of the countries in Europe are largely open,’ the VNO-NCW and MKB Nederland said in a joint statement.
Older, more vulnerable people have now had boosters and that has lowered the risk of a rise in hospital admissions, the organisations said.
Kuipers told reporters on Monday that major changes in the current strategy are unlikely even though the Omicron variant of the virus appears to make people less ill. In particular, IC capacity in the Netherlands is lower than in Britain and Denmark, where there are fewer measures in place, he said.
Nevertheless, he said, coronavirus is not going away. ‘That means we have to find a way to deal with it in the long term,’ he said. ‘This is not just something for the healthcare sector, but for society in general to deal with.’
Jeroen van der Hilst, a Dutch infectious disease specialist who works at a hospital in Belgium, told the NRC that the Dutch lockdown could be seen as a ‘mistake’.
While the fears about Omicron at the beginning were understandable, government health advisors should now come with realistic scenarios, he said. ‘You cannot keep saying that the whole world is wrong apart from the Netherlands,’ he said. ‘Extending the lockdown would be out of all proportion.’
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