Some mayors to allow shops, cafes to open this weekend despite lockdown
Although the Netherlands is facing record-high levels of coronavirus infections, several municipalities said they will allow shops and cafes to open up on a limited basis this weekend. This will happen regardless of what the Cabinet announces during a press conference on Friday, with the current all-hours lockdown set to expire later that night. The Netherlands averaged about 30,000 new coronavirus infections each of the past seven days, but with most infections disproportionately affecting people under 40, hospitalizations for Covid-19 are at a 10-week low.
Mayor Otwin van Dijk of the Achterhoek municipality of Oude IJsselstreek said he will not penalize shops and the hospitality businesses who open their doors this Saturday even if the Cabinet extends the lockdown. He said he views the limited reopening "as a sort of statement," his spokesperson said on Wednesday.
A condition is that entrepreneurs who open their business do so in a safe and responsible manner, Van Dijk said. Like many other mayors, he wants the Cabinet to release a plan to reopen society in a controlled manner. Other neighboring municipalities in the Achterhoek region may also allow a one-time lockdown exemption for the opening of shops and restaurants on Saturday as a demonstration. They will discuss the matter on Friday.
Valkenburg hit twice by floods, lockdown
Valkenburg mayor Daan Prevoo will also allow shops and hospitality businesses to open there on Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., a spokesperson confirmed after the story was reported by Dagblad de Limburger. The mayor also considers such an action by shops and cafes to be a protest, she said. The entrepreneurs in the city center reported their plans for a demonstration to the municipality, and the right to demonstrate is a fundamental one in the Netherlands, Prevoo believes.
As such, he will not intervene when shops and bars open, meaning no warnings will be issued and no fines will be given. This includes customers of the businesses, who Prevoo considers to be sympathetic to the business owners' cause and are in solidarity with them. He expects participants of the protest to adhere to the other coronavirus restrictions, like maintaining a distance of 1.5 meters from others, and wearing face masks. Prevoo made the decision after discussing the situation with police.
The middle class in Valkenburg was greatly affected by the disastrous flood in July, and was not afforded an opportunity to recover because of coronavirus restrictions that followed. The entrepreneurs there said that a longer closure of the business world threatens to be a fatal blow for them.
Stores in several cities in Limburg have announced that they will open next weekend, including in Roermond and Geleen. Hospitality establishments are also considering running promotions. On Thursday, the Limburg-Noord Security Region will discuss what position municipalities can take with regard to similar actions, which are aimed at the government's coronavirus policy. According to the entrepreneurs, the water is nearly over their heads.
In Maastricht, entrepreneurs appealed to Mayor Annemarie Penn to argue in favor of relaxing the coronavirus measures locally. She said in response that a motion expressing that sentiment will be submitted during a meeting of the Association of Dutch Municipalities on Thursday. Maastricht will support such a motion, she said in a letter to the city council on Wednesday.
Justice Minister stays tight-lipped, as mayors plan to debate lockdown necessity
The Ministry of Justice does not want to say what will happen if the lockdown is extended. Justice Minister Dilan Yesilgöz said earlier Wednesday that it is "up to the people themselves" to follow the rules and that she does not want to speculate on "if-then scenarios," preferring to wait and see what happens in the towns this weekend.
The representatives of all security regions will gather on Thursday evening for a full meeting of the Security Council, which will be used to discuss the proposed coronavirus measures that the Cabinet will likely announce on Friday. Council chair Hubert Bruls, the mayor of Nijmegen, said earlier this week that the Outbreak Management Team must come up with "a convincing story" to maintain the strict lockdown for a longer period of time. He called it "appalling" for entrepreneurs that many Dutch people are simply crossing the border to shop and eat out. Bruls is not yet planning to allow entrepreneurs to open their businesses in breach of lockdown rules on Saturday.
Cities angered about customers crossing the borders
The municipality of Sittard-Geleen was disconcerted that Dutch customers spend their money across the border. "We share the concerns that entrepreneurs are expressing about the survival of their companies, especially in a border region like ours. Due to differences in national measures, the consequences for our entrepreneurs are even more serious, because customers spend their money in Belgium and Germany. Our entrepreneurs will not see that lost revenue at a later time."
The municipality did not yet want to say whether Sittard-Geleen will enforce lockdown violations if shops decide to open on Saturday, should it violate national policy. "We are awaiting a decision from the new Cabinet," said the municipality. "We are therefore not going to anticipate the announced opening by entrepreneurs in Sittard-Geleen this Saturday."
The municipality of Sliedrecht, one of the municipalities that sent an angry letter to the Cabinet on Tuesday demanding that non-essential shops be allowed to reopen, also indicated that if the measures are not relaxed, the municipality is counting on people in Sliedrecht to continue to comply with the rules. "If that is not the case in a single instance, we will monitor and enforce if necessary."
Reporting by ANP and NL Times.