After over six weeks of lockdown, Tuesday’s press conference saw Prime Minister Mark Rutte lift what remained of the national lockdown restrictions, reopening the cultural and hospitality industries and lifting the blanket ban on events – however, a number of restrictions and measures have remained in place. This is how the Netherlands has reacted to the lifting of the coronavirus lockdown. 

Dutch government: Lifting national lockdown is a risk

Approximately, 5,5 million people tuned in to watch Rutte and Health Minister Ernst Kuipers announce the most recent package of relaxations. While the news means that, as of Wednesday, the Netherlands is no longer under lockdown, both Rutte and Kuipers emphasised the fact that the Dutch government was taking a risk in lifting so many restrictions at this time: “We are consciously pushing the limits of what is possible.” 

While doctors and medical experts on the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) had advised the government to take various steps to lift the lockdown, Rutte and his cabinet ministers ultimately decided to go one step further than the guidance advised, with Kuipers pointing out that this was necessary because restrictions “damage our health and our society.”

Following the press conference, one epidemiologist from the National Institute for Public Health and Environment (RIVM) told NU that the government’s decision to relax restrictions at this time would result in a peak for Dutch hospitals in March, but that the size and scale of the imminent peak remained uncertain as a result of the Omicron variant.

Restaurants and bars in the Netherlands relieved to reopen

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020, the Dutch hospitality industry has faced various rules and restrictions put in place by the Dutch government. The latest decision to finally reopen bars, restaurants, and cafes was met which much relief amongst business owners

Robèr Willemsen, chairman of Koninklijke Horeca Nederland (KHN), the largest union representing hospitality businesses in the Netherlands, was overjoyed with the news. “This is exactly what we have been fighting for in recent weeks…Entrepreneurs, but also employees and guests have missed the catering industry so much.”

Events and nightclubs frustrated with coronavirus rules

While many businesses reopened their doors on Wednesday morning, one key aspect of the hospitality industry remains closed for the foreseeable future: nightclubs. “We just don’t understand,” says business owner and chairman of the Amsterdam Clubs Consultation (OAC), Pieter de Kroon. “The mental health of our target group is bad [at the moment], and now they’re organising illegal parties themselves instead. It is a bit naive to keep us closed when going out with us would be a safer environment.” 

Similarly, a number of event organisations have expressed frustration with the government’s decision to enforce a closing time and maximum capacity rule. “What is framed as opening the entire event sector is again nothing less than an empty promise and feels like a punch in the face to the 100.000 people who work in our industry,” says Ritty van Straalen, CEO of ID&T, an organisation that represents 90 festivals and live music venues in the Netherlands.

Mixed reactions from cultural industry

Reactions are mixed within the cultural industry. While cinemas and museums were pleased to hear they would be able to reopen their doors, theatres were disappointed to hear that they would have to enforce the 1,5-metre distance rule amongst audience members. 

“The picture doesn’t get any better. If the audience has to sit 1,5 meters away, shows can only receive 30 percent audience, when 70 percent is needed to break even,” explains Boris van der Ham, chairman of the Association Free Theater Producers (VVTP), in a tweet.

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