Alternative Covid approach losing support; Gov't denies pressure
Three leading economists decided to sever ties with Herstel NL, a campaign with which a group of scientists and entrepreneurs want to implement an alternative approach to the Covid-19 pandemic. Professor Coen Teulings, Rabobank director Barbara Baarsma, and economist Bas Jacobs are no longer affiliated with Herstel NL, NOS reports.
Teulings and Baarsma posted the same message on LinkedIn stating that they are no longer involved in the campaign, but not giving an explanation for why. Jacobs told BNR that Herstel NL "has become too much of an action group".
Herstel NL wants to "open up" the Netherlands by creating "safe zones" where people vulnerable to the coronavirus can live. According to the campaign, this will allow shops, restaurants, education, and the cultural sector to reopen. Critics call the plan dangerous, arguing that it would create different groups in society and turn vulnerable people into second-class citizens.
The campaign will continue for the time being, the group's board and supervisory board decided in a meeting on Monday night. According to Herstel NL chairman Robin Fransman, "circles around the cabinet" had asked them to temporarily cease their work until after the election.
It is not clear what cabinet circles Fransman was referring to. According to NOS, Fransman did not respond to repeated requests for clarification. Ministers Wopke Hoekstra and Bas van 't Wout at least don't know about it, they said to the broadcaster. A spokesperson for the ministerial coronavirus consultation called the accusation "bullshit" and said Herstel NL is falling apart for other reasons, according to NOS.
Minister Hoekstra of Finance said that he spoke to members of Herstel NL via a video call on Friday morning, but that was mainly an informative conversation. He said that there is "no question of" him asking them to stop their activities. "I just wanted to understand better what they mean. But I don't believe pressure was exerted, at least not by me and I don't think by other cabinet members either," he said on his way into a cabinet meeting ahead of the coronavirus press conference on Tuesday.
"It doesn't mean anything to me," Minister Van 't Wout of Economic Affairs said to NOS when asked about government circles exerting pressure on Herstel NL. He's had no contact with the organization, he said. "I really have no idea what is going on with that."