By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
VALKENBURG (Worthy News) – The Netherlands government only partially lifted Europe’s toughest coronavirus lockdown Friday, despite mounting protests with bars and other businesses threatening to reopen anyway.
Dutch Liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte said non-essential stores, sex workers, hairdressers, beauty salons, and others are allowed to reopen under strict conditions until 5 p.m. local time for the first time since mid-December.
But while even close-contact sex service providers were allowed to reopen, bars, restaurants, and cultural venues such as theaters have to remain closed until at least January 25, Rutte added.
That prompted an angry reaction with owners of bars, restaurants, and cultural venues threatening to reopen anyway.
On Friday, locals flocked to eat and drink at outdoor tables of restaurants in the main street of the southern city of Valkenburg in open defiance of a lockdown in the Netherlands.
Authorities in the tourist town, which was devastated by flooding last year, didn’t enforce coronavirus restrictions.
“It’s very difficult; it doesn’t feel fair at the moment. The first few lockdowns were logical, I agreed with them, but it doesn’t feel fair anymore,” added Didi Corten, who opened the outdoor terrace of Brasserie America for the day.
Other business owners also threatened to reopen in several cities and towns, including border areas. They watched how during the lockdown, many Dutch people crossed the border into Belgium, crowding shopping centers and restaurants while the Netherlands was in lockdown.
Rutte said he understood their frustration. “Bar owners have the right to protest. But we expect the mayors to allow the protest briefly but not continuously,” he added when asked about bars and restaurants reopening.
Rutte also said that universities and vocational schools would reopen under the condition that students and teachers wear masks, prompting critical experts to question the mental and physical impact of this policy on youngsters.
The prime minister stressed he encourages the young and old to take up sports. He said the government allows gyms and other sports facilities to open under certain conditions without public.
New Health Minister Ernst Kuipers warned that with the number of infections rising to 80,000 per day, people should wear medical face masks in busy public places and elsewhere, including at work, where it is impossible to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Rutte acknowledged that maintaining strict measures comes, although more than 86 percent of adults are fully vaccinated, nearly half had a booster shot.
He said the policy is partly needed because of new coronavirus variants such as Omicron.
Roughly 21,000 deaths were related to COVID-19 on a population of 17.3 million people, according to health authorities. Most of the victims were older people with underlying health conditions.
However, questions have also been raised about the impact of lockdowns, with authorities suggesting a rise of 15 percent in registered suicides in the Netherlands compared to previous years.
The number of suicides rose, especially among young people between the ages of 20 and 30, according to figures from the Current Dutch Suicide Registration Committee (CANS).
“In 2021, there were 300 suicides more [than the roughly 1,800 usually registered], an increase of 15 percent. Especially between the ages of 20 and 30, and often men,” said CANS chair Renske Gilissen.
As the social consequences become clear, a Dutch television poll showed Friday that 89 percent of people supported reopening stores and a majority also back reopening restaurants and cultural institutions.
If you are interested in articles produced by Worthy News, please check out our FREE sydication service available to churches or online Christian ministries. To find out more, visit Worthy Plugins.