Revised temporary coronavirus law submitted to Parliament

Social distancing reminders on the Nieuwendijk, a major shopping street in Amsterdam Centrum. May 28, 2020
Social distancing reminders on the Nieuwendijk, a major shopping street in Amsterdam Centrum. May 28, 2020NL TimesNL Times

The government submitted its revised proposal for the Coronavirus Act, which is meant to provide a legal basis for measures taken against the spread of the coronavirus, to parliament on Monday. The law was meant to take effect on July 1, but due to a large amount of criticism, the government needed to revise it first.

Criticism on the original law included that the government would be given too much power at the expense of citizens' privacy, and that the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, would be too far removed to intervene. 

This law is intended to replace the various emergency ordinances issued by mayors and municipalities due to the coronavirus outbreak. The revised proposal states that people are required to keep a safe distance from each other, though doesn't specifically mention 1.5 meters. It also states that the government can prohibit certain events or professional activities - like closing schools or restaurants - by law. 

In the amended proposal, the coronavirus notification app, which will eventually warn people if they had contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19, is removed from the law and will get its own law. As is a provision that would give local authorities the power to enforce coronavirus measures in people's homes. Critics felt it was going too far if the police can break up a family gathering in a living room, according to NOS. 

The duration of the law was lowered from one year to six months, after which the Tweede Kamer can extend it for three months if necessary.

The Council of State is still critical of the revised bill, it said to NOS. The government's main advisory body is concerned that the Minister of Public Health, Welfare and Sports, for example, still has too big a role given that he has the power to reactivate emergency regulations. The Council also said that some terms are not clearly described - exactly what is meant by "safe distance" or "group formation", for example. The fact that people who violate the coronavirus measures can get a criminal record for doing so, is also a concern, the Council said to NOS.

Wim Voermans, professor of constitutional law at Leiden University, thinks that parliament still has too little say in this new proposal, he said to Nieuwsuur. "The law empowers Ministers to take drastic measures on their own, for example about the closure of catering establishments or schools. That is not the way we want it in this country." He worries that the Kamer will only have retroactive power. "A week after a Minister sends a regulation to the Kamer it already comes into effect. The Kamer can not intervene," Voermans said. "In a parliamentary democracy, it is important that MPs have the final say."