Dutch police end illegal party in the town of Dalfsen Dutch police end illegal party in the town of Dalfsen  (ANSA)

Netherlands partially lifts Europe’s toughest lockdown

The Netherlands government has only partially lifted Europe's toughest coronavirus lockdown, prompting protests with bars and other businesses reopening despite prohibitions.

By Stefan J. Bos 

Dutch Liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte said non-essential stores, sex workers, hairdressers, beauty salons, and others can reopen under strict conditions until 5 p.m. local time.

That's for the first time since mid-December.

But, bars, restaurants, and cultural venues such as theatres have to remain closed until at least January 25. "There is immense pressure from all sides to ease restrictions. But there are significant uncertainties," Prime Minister Rutte said. "That's why not everything can open at the same time. So I hope there's an understanding of this policy."

However, it prompted an angry reaction with owners of bars, restaurants, and cultural venues threatening to reopen anyway.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report

Over the weekend, 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.

Mayor Daan Prevoo says the tourist town, devastated by flooding last year, did not enforce coronavirus restrictions as he understands the frustrations. "This is a demonstration. And it is a fundamental right to express how you think about things. And as a mayor of this city, I allow this as a demonstration," he said in a busy shopping street.

"It's crowdy, but I see happy faces," he added. 

Students wearing masks

Prime Minister Rutte also said that universities and vocational schools would reopen, but only under the condition that students and teachers wear masks.

That has prompted critical experts to question this policy's mental and physical impact on youngsters.

Health officials have acknowledged that suicide rates increased in the Netherlands by 15 percent over the past year compared to previous years, especially among young people below 30.

16 January 2022, 16:06