Experts critical about lockdown relaxations; Students, retailers disappointed
The Dutch government announced the relaxation of some measures in the coronavirus lockdown on Tuesday evening. A number of experts questioned the wisdom of this, saying that these relaxations were mainly politically motivated. Students, retailers and catering establishments are disappointed by which measures the government chose to relax.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that most contact professions will be allowed to reopen, non-essential stores can allow shopping by appointment, secondary schools and vocational schools can partly reopen, and there will be more room for more young people to exercise and play sports together.
According to Rutte, this first bit of relaxation is possible because they don't entail big risks. "You're looking at activities with a limited number of repetitions, you don't go to the hairdresser every day." According to him, these relaxations also won't lead to a great many movements between regions.
Experts are critical of these relaxation, NOS reports after speaking to a number of them. "The logic of this strategy escapes me," Radboudumc epidemiologist Alma Tostmann said. "I can understand that the cabinet wants to accommodate people, but the starting point is an increase in [infection] figures and persistently stable hospital figures." According to Tostmann, there's a "general lack of concrete perspective".
"If you look at the uncertainty now, you cannot exactly say that things are going well, because they're not. I keep wondering what direction exactly the policy is heading in," epidemiologist Amrish Baidjoe said to the broadcaster. "For example, if you look at the level of infections at the moment and compare it to the easing in June, the number of infections was a lot lower then." He believes this relaxation was politically motivated, with the parliamentary elections coming up next month. "This is playing with fire."
Student organizations are disappointed that universities and colleges will remain closed. "It is such a shame to see that students are structurally at the back of relaxations," Dahran Coban of student organization ISO said to AD. "Thousands of students have been at home for months now and have no prospect of improvement. Again, promises made in terms of perspective are not fulfilled."
Student union LSVb called it "weird how students of colleges and universities fall through the cracks every time". "Higher education plans are being thrown in the trash," LSVb vice president Freya Chiappino said. "It seems like students are being pushed out of the boat." She called on the cabinet to "prevent them from drowning."
The council of secondary schools VO-Raad is pleased that pupils will be allowed to go to school at least one day a week, calling the decision "satisfactory". "The decision is in line with a broad wish, both in schools and beyond," a spokesperson said to AD. Education unions AOb and CNV Onderwijs are also pleased that the cabinet found room to give high school pupils some perspective.
Retailers are disappointed that they will only be able to allow customers by appointment, retailers' association INretail said to AD. According to director Jan Meerman, stores can reopen completely in a safe and responsible manner. Retail trade is having a hard time and at least 50 thousand jobs are at risk in the sector, he said.
Retailers can open on an appointment basis from March 3. Customers must make that appointment four hours in advance and there can be no more than two customers per floor in the store at the same time. The visit must last at least 10 minutes. The government made no distinction between small and large stores, because that is not enforceable, Rutte said. Meerman called that argument nonsensical. "This way it just doesn't make sense for the big companies. They may as well remain closed."
Retail chain Hema expressed the same concern to AD. "If this is it, two people very ten minutes, then that is no one to us," a spokesperson said, calling it a setback for the company and its customers.
Blokker called shopping by appointment a step in the right direction, but hoped to be able to receive more customers again. "We are happy to welcome customers again. This may not be what we hoped for, but it is now possible, so we will certainly make use of it," a spokesperson said to AD.
Hospitality association KHN believes it is just a matter of time before catering establishments open their doors without the government's permission. "It cannot be long before people open the doors again despite everything. I fear I cannot stop that," KHN chairman Rober Willemsen said to AD. "We are receiving more and more of these kind of signals via text messages, emails and social media."
"We have been able to keep that under control so far, because we have always been against this kind of civil disobedience," he aid. "I'm not going to call for it for now, but I'm not going to reject it either."