Saturday 04 February 2023

Coronavirus law delayed as minister says ‘careful handling’ needs more time


New legislation to anchor the rules for social distancing and other Covid-19 related issues in law will not come into effect on July 1 as planned, health minister Hugo de Jonge has told MPs.

The introduction of the legislation, which has been criticised by lawyers, local authorities and the national ombudsman, requires ‘careful handling’ in both houses of parliament and the deadline cannot be met, De Jonge said.

The minister does not give another target date.

According to broadcaster NOS, the government’s highest advisory body, the Council of State, has been highly critical of the legislation and recommends a rethink. The council’s comments have not been made public but sources told NOS its experts are concerned about the way Covid-19 legislation will be monitored and controlled.

Currently social distancing and other regulations are based on the government’s emergency powers which can be enacted at times of crisis. But legal experts have criticised the lack of legal basis, given the length of time the measures have now been in force, and say it may be possible to challenge fines in court.

The new rules would make it an offence not to keep a ‘safe distance’ from others on the street. They also allow officials to ban people from certain places and from organising events and from practising certain professions. Ministers would also be allowed to make certain hygiene rules compulsory.

The Dutch bar association said in a reaction to the proposals that the law may conflict with fundamental rights set down in the constitution and that ministers would be given a free hand to take far-reaching measures behind closed doors.

The national ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen said the draft legislation does not make it clear where people should go if the measures conflict with their own interests while local authority association VNG said that the chain of command between national government, regional safety departments and mayors is too vague.

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