In southern Dutch town, cafes open in lockdown protest

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VALKENBURG, NETHERLANDS —
Shops, bars and restaurants in a southern Dutch town opened Friday in a protest action that underscored growing anger at weeks of coronavirus lockdown measures, a day before some of the restrictions are expected to be eased.

Locals flocked to eat and drink at outdoor tables of restaurants in the main street of Valkenburg in open defiance of a lockdown in the Netherlands. Authorities in the tourist town, which was devastated by flooding last year, didn’t take action to enforce coronavirus restrictions.

“It’s very difficult, it doesn’t feel fair at the moment. The first few lockdowns were logical, I agreed with them, but it doesn’t feel fair any more,” said Didi Corten, who opened the outdoor terrace of Brasserie America for the day.

“After the flooding, we want to open again very soon because otherwise I’m afraid a lot of businesses will not survive,” she added. “It can’t go on like this.”

More towns in the region were planning similar protest openings on Saturday if hospitality remains in lockdown.

The country has been in an tough lockdown since the week before Christmas in a move the government says is aimed at “buying time” to ease pressure on overburdened hospitals and ramp up the country’s vaccine booster program.

While infections have shot to record numbers recently as the Omicron variant became the dominant coronavirus strain, hospital and intensive care unit admissions have been falling for weeks. The country’s public health institute recorded an average of more than 31,000 new cases a day over the last week.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte is holding a COVID-19 news conference Friday evening and Dutch media citing unnamed government sources report that he is likely to allow nonessential stores along with businesses like hairdressers to reopen. Universities also are expected to reopen for in-person classes from Monday.

“There will be a real difference between today and tomorrow,” Social Affairs Minister Karien van Gennip told reporters before a Cabinet meeting.

Bars, restaurants, museums and theatres are, however, expected to remain closed, sparking anger from those sectors.

Dirk Beljaarts, general director of the national hospitality industry group, said said he met with new Economic Affairs Minister Micky Adriaansens to press for bars and restaurants to be allowed to reopen.

“The Cabinet can’t leave hospitality (& culture) as the only sectors out in the cold,” Beljaarts tweeted.

The lockdown has led to frustration particularly in towns like Valkenburg that are close to the Dutch borders with Germany and Belgium that are seeing people visiting those neighbouring nations to shop or dine out because they have fewer restrictions.

The booster drive was slow to get started in the Netherlands, but has gathered pace in recent weeks. Just over 86% of adults are fully vaccinated and 45% have had a booster shot.

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Corder reported from The Hague

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