The caretaker Dutch government has finally bowed to pressure and agreed to lift the country’s overnight coronavirus curfew – which led to days of nationwide rioting, hundreds of arrests and thousands of fines – from the middle of next week.
Its abolition was announced on Tuesday evening by acting premier Mark Rutte, who said that along with the reopening of outdoor bars and cafes from noon to 6pm, and allowing two visitors a day in private homes, it would mark the first stage of "re-establishing society".
Although mass protests against the curfew have ended, it rapidly emerged as a bone of contention in talks on a new coalition government. It’s also angrily opposed by a decimated catering industry, and by city mayors who say it too easily leads to aggressive policing, such as the use of water cannon.
Having first been imposed on January 23rd, prompting memories in an older generation of a Nazi curfew during the second World War, the curfew will be lifted from Wednesday next, April 28th, despite the fact that the third wave of the pandemic has not yet reached its peak.
“These are cautions first steps,” said Mr Rutte. “They won’t happen without taking risks, but those risks have to be responsible. It is, and will remain, a balancing act for now. We still have to be very careful and social distancing remains as important as ever.”
Despite the fact that the Netherlands has been in various stages of lockdown, including the curfew from 9pm to 4.30am, for more than six months, new cases of coronavirus have climbed stubbornly in recent weeks to their highest levels since January.
Infections increased by 5.3 per cent to 53,981 in the third week of April, the fifth consecutive week of increases, according to the public health institute. There were 146 fatalities. The latest R number for the rate at which the virus is reproducing itself is 1.06.
Set against those less-than-ideal statistics, said caretaker health minister Hugo de Jonge, was the fact that every adult was on course to have been given one vaccination by the start of July, as promised by the government.
The vaccination momentum would be increased, he said, by the addition of the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) jab, developed in Leiden, which became available on Wednesday after the European Medicines Agency judged that the risk of blood clots was extremely low.
In a reminder of the anti-curfew riots, a 13-year-old boy was given 35 hours of junior community service, and his parents ordered to pay €18,000 in compensation for damage he caused in Eindhoven on January 24th, the morning after the curfew began.
He was caught smashing windows in the main railway station and “plundering” a supermarket in the station precinct.