The Dutch face harsh new restrictions as their country becomes Europe's new Covid capital
A crowded Amsterdam in August - getty
The Netherlands has overtaken Spain and is one of the Covid capitals in Europe. Amsterdam is an important hotspot. What's happening?
On October 7, just under 5,000 new cases were reported in the Netherlands in the past 24 hours - an exceptionally high number for such a small country. With a current infection rate of 243 per million people, the Netherlands outperforms not only Spain, but also the UK (192 per million), the US (137 per million) and Brazil (128 per million). The number far exceeds the highest number of daily infections reported during the spring lockdown - 1,316 on April 12 - although, of course, far fewer tests were done then. Neighboring Germany now demands that anyone entering the country from all but one Dutch province first tests a negative. Belgium strongly discourages Dutch visitors (but has no specific restrictions yet).
Weekly hospital stays and mortality rates remain relatively low - with just over 800 new admissions and 89 deaths in the past week - but are up sharply from the early summer singles. More than half of the new infections occurred at home or in families, and around a third were between the ages of 15 and 29. As in the UK, relatively few people said they had found their infection at work (12.7 percent), at school (4.9 percent) or in hotels, restaurants or cafes (2.9 percent).
In March, the Dutch Prime Minister spoke of an “intelligent lockdown”. For the weeks that followed, shops stayed open, although most people worked from home and only walked when needed, and masks were only mandatory for public transportation. People generally followed socially distant advice. But this “intelligent” reluctance seems to have disappeared. Guidelines became widespread in the summer. Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema's attempt to make the wearing of masks compulsory in crowded parts of Amsterdam had to be canceled at the end of August due to non-compliance.
The famous Dutch “polder model” (round table, “everyone has the word” discussions), which has been so good for business and healthy manager-worker relationships for decades, has proven less effective in times of crisis. For weeks, as infection rates began to rise again, authorities seemed unable to act decisively and circled discussions about fairness, privacy and the legality of stricter preventive measures. In early October, after weeks of allegations, the Dutch government put in place stricter regulations - and measures are likely to be tightened when they come up for review on October 20th.
A masked visitor to the Rijksmuseum - getty
After the new measures, cafes and restaurants have to close at 10 p.m. All customers must have reservations and be seated at one table. Reservations cannot be made for more than four people (unless they come from the same household). All guests are asked to register their name and address so that they can be contacted by health authorities. However, registration is not mandatory. Clubs and nightclubs have been closed for some time and have to stay that way.
People are advised to work from home unless it really is impossible and not to have more than three visitors at home at the same time - although for now this is more of an advice than a mandate. Schools and universities remain open, but cinemas and theaters are limited to an audience of 30 people. Mayor Halsema has ensured that Amsterdam venues that are of particular cultural importance - such as the national opera building and the Concertgebouw - have 250 spectators. The Rijksmuseum and other major Amsterdam museums have visitor numbers that are limited in terms of size.
The city's tourism industry is facing a long and harsh winter
Although wearing masks is still not mandatory except on public transport, the government strongly recommends wearing masks in covered public spaces such as shops and museums. This also applies to theaters and restaurants, but here people can remove masks once they are seated.
Tourism in Amsterdam, which revived in the summer, was hit hard. Even during the upswing in June, hotel occupancy fell by around 50 percent; Forecasts for the rest of the year are between 80 and 90 percent. The rural areas benefit from internal tourism, but the Netherlands is small enough to accommodate most local visits to Amsterdam as a day trip. The city's extremely lucrative fall conference trade has been reduced to zero.
The ingenious tricks of the hotels that can be seen in summer seem increasingly desperate - for example discounts of 50 percent or more or rooms that are rented out as private workspaces. Smaller businesses feel the pressure even more. “I don't have any bookings. Nothing. The few that I had canceled all of them, ”one B&B owner told me. Another just sold out, retired early and lived in the country. Restaurants and cafes have done a little better, many taking advantage of temporary relaxation when planning permits to improvise outdoor seating areas - but patios become less attractive as the weather gets colder. Despite the fact that reported transmissions are low in cafes and restaurants, many customers are reluctant to drink and dine indoors.
Like people around the world, Amsterdam residents are fed up with the restrictions and wish the virus to go away. Autumn is a time of year that many Amsterdam residents enjoy - after the summer party, life slows down a bit. When the weather gets cooler, people look forward to meeting friends in the inviting warmth of a café steeped in Gezelligheid - that much-valued quality of cozy conviviality. Now it seems as if the hardships of winter are increasing and appearing with few attractions: no skating behind the Rijksmuseum, no fireplace chats in a worn out “brown café”. Even the main festival of autumn - the procession of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas / Santa Claus) and his assistant through the streets on horseback to give sweets to children - will no longer take place. Instead, Sinterklaas will arrive on a Dockland island by steamboat - without a live audience.
In the meantime, Amsterdammers remain caught between wanting everything to be back to normal and reluctance to accept that it isn't.
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