Friday 10 July 2020

Sex workers, sports clubs and schools welcome lockdown easing, but cafes and culture disappointed

The red light district has been deserted. Photo: Alex Nicholls-Lee

The government’s surprise decision to allow sex workers to start working on July 1, rather than in September, has been welcomed by prostitution lobby groups, but the hospitality industry and cultural sectors are disappointed that the 1.5 metre ruling remains strictly in force.

‘Everyone is extremely happy that we can open again, because we have no more money,’ Felicia Anna, chairwoman of lobby group Red Light United, told the Telegraaf. ‘We had not expected this because ours is a profession where you cannot avoid close contact.’

There was mild hilarity at Wednesday’s press conference when prime minister Mark Rutte said the situation facing sex workers had been seriously discussed with government experts – and that there would be no ban on some sex acts or positions.

The sector now has to establish a protocol to ensure everyone stays safe, Felicia Anna said. ‘We have a week and I expect everything will open again on July 1,’ she said. ‘Most workers are in the Netherlands already and others will now come back.’

Saunas too are being allowed to reopen two months earlier than planned.

Coronavirus in the Netherlands: what you need to know

The government has also decided that there should be no limit on the number of people attending cinemas and concerts, as long as social distancing is observed, that tickets are reserved in advance and that guests answer questions about their health.

However, concert and theatre companies say they are disappointed that the government did not go further in relaxing the 1.5 metre rule, which means that most venues will still operate at 20% capacity.

Ziggo Dome commercial director Danny Damman told the Volkskrant he remains pessimistic. His venue has capacity for 16,000 people but can only admit 3,000 because of the restrictions. ‘We only make money when we are at two-thirds capacity,’ he said.

Cafes

Cafes and restaurants are also being given more leeway to have more guests indoors, with same rules applying as to theatres.

But this will only benefit very large restaurants and conference centres, sector lobby group KHN points out. ‘We had hoped for more,’ spokesman Dirk Beljaarts said.

The fact people will be able to stand with a drink in their hand at a fair ground, but must be seated on a cafe terrace is also hard to understand, he told the paper.

School groups, however, have welcomed the decision to remove social distancing requirements for secondary school pupils from July 1. ‘It was a good idea on paper, but impossible to maintain in practice,’ the Aob teaching union said.

1.5 metres is key

Virologists say that it is crucial to keep to the 1.5 metre rule where possible, despite opposition in some quarters.

‘Two things have been crucial in stopping the spread of coronavirus – staying home if you are sick and social distancing,’ Maastricht University professor Christian Hoebe told the Financieele Dagblad.

The virus has been mainly spread at large events and from person to person – between family members or work colleagues who have not kept far enough apart, he said.

Social distancing is particularly relevant indoors, he said. ‘In the end, it is all down to a combination of risk factors: how long you are with someone, how close to them and in what sort of space.’

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