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Inside the surreal Dutch lockdown You can visit a brothel but not a bar

She can't work from home (Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

She can't work from home (Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto via Getty Images)


January 24, 2022   5 mins

Amsterdam

Sitting respectfully in our ‘pews’, we put our hands together
 and clap. This is not a service but a comedy night. And Amsterdam’s newest ‘church’ is really a theatre for debate and cultural centre in disguise. Incensed by the illogical nature of the current Dutch coronavirus restrictions, Yoeri Albrecht, director of De Balie, last week changed the statutes of his organisation and registered it with the chamber of commerce as a faith-based movement: overnight, The Philosophical Society; the Community of Reason was born.

It is unlikely to be the last. His example, a group of Dutch mayors predicted wryly in an open letter to the government, is likely to mark the start of “an unprecedented religious revival in the coming weeks”.

The Netherlands has been in partial or full lockdown since November, primarily due to the pressure of patients with the Delta variant on the hospital system and one of Europe’s least efficient booster campaigns. But just over a week ago, the restrictions were loosened — albeit in a strikingly surreal fashion.

In the Netherlands today, brothels can open but museums can’t. You can sweat, unmasked, in a gym but you can’t sit in a bar nursing a quiet gin. “You can come together in the Veluwe [in the country’s Bible Belt] to talk about a 2,000-year-old book, but you can’t get together in Amsterdam to talk about a book from last month,” as Albrecht put it.

So last Friday night, I was among 50 people who snuck into De Balie under the cover of darkness — for fear of the police turning up — who signed a big, black book to join the community, and prepared to enjoy a night of much-missed comedy. “The Philosophical Society; the Community of Reason is about democracy and the rule of law, the solace and consolation of culture, experiencing something together that culture can give, seeing a bit of light after two years of darkness,” said Albrecht – something of an unusual opening blessing.

Everything about the evening was as absurd as the situation in the Netherlands. The crowd devoutly wore face masks and staff religiously scanned coronavirus ‘QR code passes’. But the comics were not announced in advance, photos and recording were banned, and the whole affair had the illicit frisson of an under-age boozing session.

Yet De Balie is far from alone in its rebellion. Across the Netherlands, bars and restaurants have been opening regardless of the restrictions – especially in towns near the German and Belgian borders. On Saturday, for instance, 30 hospitality venues threw open their doors in Horst aan de Maas in protest. Last Wednesday, some 70 museums and galleries around the country decided to ‘open’ as temporary hairdressers, beauty salons and gyms – including world-renowned institutions such as the Van Gogh Museum, the Concertgebouw, and Amsterdam’s oldest theatre, De Kleine Komedie.

“We have a problem with the fact that hairdressers and nail bars and commercial activities can be open, and we can’t,” explained Van Gogh Museum director Emilie Gordenker. “We support everything we need to do in order to keep people safe. But this policy just seems contradictory and it seems to favour the commercial sector over the cultural one.”

Even the Dutch government appears to recognise this inconsistency. In a bizarre moment during a recent press conference, Mark Rutte emphasised that the Dutch have a constitutional right to protest, and that temporary openings could be viewed in this regard. “The right to demonstrate also applies to sectors like the hospitality industry, and I can imagine that mayors could look at ‘what’s allowed for a little while’
 with the emphasis on ‘a little while’,” he said. “So if they want to open for a few hours to show ‘we are demonstrating’, then it’s up to the mayors how they deal with that.”

If it was an attempt to shunt on responsibility for enforcing his restrictions to local government (even though this is actually their structural role in the Netherlands), it soon backfired. Last week, 31 mayors — including Amsterdam chief Femke Halsema and non-conformist Breda mayor Paul Depla — wrote to the Government, pointing out that short-term policy-making is “reaching its limits” and putting local enforcers in a perilous position against a growing mood of civic disobedience. “It is in fact impossible but also undesirable for the state to use repression to forcibly convince Dutch citizens that the measures are correct,” they pointed out.

Ahead of the Government’s next coronavirus press conference tomorrow, it also emerged at the weekend that the country’s medical advisory body, the Outbreak Management Team, wants cultural and hospitality venues to reopen alongside everything else until 8pm each day.

No doubt it would be a welcome move; but is it too little too late? In the Netherlands, the damage from these lockdowns has become increasingly evident. In the government’s most recent press conference, new health minister Ernst Kuipers admitted that two-thirds of young people are suffering from loneliness. Even since the November partial lockdown, the SCP, a social and cultural government think tank, has found that psychological wellbeing had dropped, particularly among the young.

And as for the affected industries, it’s unlikely that, even if the restrictions are lifted, business will be able to return to normal any time soon. Thousands of people working in the hospitality and culture sectors have simply given up and looked for work elsewhere. Many will be in coronavirus quarantine, after coming into contact with someone who has been infected. And for those who do want to return, it won’t simply be a matter of turning up to work the day after an announcement is made. An orchestra can’t just suddenly pick up bows and be ready to perform again next week: they need advance notice to plan.

“You see that the Netherlands is mentally exhausted with the pandemic and all of the restrictions — young people but also a lot of others,” said Concertgebouw managing director Simon Reinink on Wednesday, as the orchestra gave a protest rehearsal in front of a crowd of 50 people. “The one thing that can give meaning to life is the cultural sector. There has been a chronic underestimation of the importance of culture for people’s psychological health and wellbeing — and this is a huge problem.”

And as more rules are broken, mainstream civic disobedience risks becoming a habit; this is a country where ‘rules’ (like soft drug laws) are already treated flexibly and even the prime minister admits society tends to be “slightly anarchistic”. “Rules only work if they rest upon social and political agreement,” pointed out the group of mayors in their letter last week. “For example, almost everyone in the Netherlands understands and respects the importance of stopping for a red light. Enforcement powers are there to bring the few offenders into line and issue fines.”

Despite last week’s mini-revolts, that remains a sentiment shared by most of the country. While “wappie” Dutch vaccine sceptics and pugilistic rioters sometimes make a lot of noise, 89.2% of the population is double jabbed, and almost 55% are boosted. Most of us have done our bit, we’ve followed the rules, despite their inconsistency and blunt capriciousness.

But all the signs suggest that we have reached a turning point: the latest reports suggest that while mostly-Omicron coronavirus infections are ramping up, the number of people needing hospital treatment is relatively stable.

It’s a dangerous situation, when people no longer understand the logic of the law and start systematically to break it. The comedy night is over. And looking at bleak days ahead, the Dutch are not laughing.

Senay Boztas is a journalist living in Amsterdam.


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Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

Amazing that so many countries have had the opportunity to watch Omicron unfold elsewhere, yet still believe that it is going to overwhelm hospitals. More so than in the past I hasten to add – what bleak future awaits when society continues to lockdown at the next cold or flu.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago

We were 200 thousand on the streets of Brussels yesterday, marching for sanity. Many came from the Netherlands too.
No one there has any intention of giving up this fight any time soon. Our numbers will only grow.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Graham, I saw it. Viva Brussels, viva!

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 years ago

Yes I see that the Covid ultras are suggesting masks and distancing in future to prevent flu. They love it, which is up to them, but what they love much much more is imposing it on all of us, knowing many, often their wider ideological opponents, will hate it.

Hersch Schneider
Hersch Schneider
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

These people are psychopaths

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 years ago

… and they are legion..

Susan Lundie
Susan Lundie
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

Then we must beat them back. This criminal insanity has to be stopped.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Susan Lundie

I see even Neil Young has joined in; a man who spent much of his earlier life addicted to various damaging and potentially lethal substances is now concerned for the health of the whole world. A Covid and vaccine enthusiast, threatening Spotify with the removal of his ouvre unless it drops Joe Rogan. Unfortunately for Neil peak Young was long ago and never as lucrative as peak Rogan is or will yet be. Reality still rules when it comes to CASH! ‘I’ve seen the needle and the damage done’ has never been so ironic.

Art C
Art C
2 years ago

It’s a type: pusillanimous, vicious people who think that they have the right to meddle with the lives of others because they have nothing worthwhile to do with their own.

D Ward
D Ward
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

And all of a sudden we understand how the 3rd Reich happened. We keep mouthing platitudes like”never again”, but we fail the hurdle at the first opportunity

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

Lesley, that is why it is called a Plandemic. They made plans on how to make the people act, and it never was anything to do with health, so why change the plan just because the variant?

It also shows the planning comes from above as the response is always just the same. Early treatment banned. Vaxes mandated, passports carried, the freedom lovers punished, and the totalitarian laws made to see how sheep like the masses are.

The top wealthy made $$$ Trillions, and acquired very great powers, and made Democracy a joke – it is The Great Reset, not ‘covid-19 and health.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago

A great article, but you sort of let down the wider point with this line:
Most of us have done our bit”
But you haven’t done anything and that’s the hard point for Rutte and everyone else to accept.
The virus spread has been completely unaffected by lockdowns, school closures, masks, and the vaccine campaign.
Data from the UK shows negative efficacy for 2-doses against omicron. This extends not just to infections but also to deaths. Only a fool would believe that the boosters (absent any clinical evidence) will somehow magically provide just the right dosage to work, this time.
The good news is covid was never that dangerous to begin with. The bad news is we’ve done everything to make the response to it as harmful as possible, to our economies, our mental health, and yes, even our bodies.

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

You are absolutely spot on!. Add to that the persistent lying about the number of cases of people who indeed got sick and hospitalised, the excess death in age categories 30-60, the massive economic damage done to medium and small businesses for the benefit of the multinationals, the sidelining of GP-s who could only advise you to take a paracetamol (for treatment protocol of Covid-19 by Dutch association of GPs, see their website. They recommend a paracetamol), under threat of a 150.000 euro fine for prescribing anything else. And still the government wants to introduce legislation for the electronic ID because ‘it is nice to have tools in the toolbox’. Mark Rutte openly walks around with WEF logoed carrier bags. It is not about public health, it is about ending human rights. Netherlands being a conceited, pompous nation full of selfrighteouness morons is taking the lead in the quick march to dystopia.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago

I was totally unprepared for the supercilious attitudes of many presumably well-educated Dutch people toward those citizens who questioned the jabs and the lockdown rules. It was disturbing to witness how eager they were to see ‘wappies’ get punished, either through fines, loss of livelihood, covid death, or police beatings.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Here is Dr John Campbell, the most popular covid youtuber – and a very pro vax/masker. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPPnyzvO7J4

Yesterday he did one with a world top virologist an got a VERY different story on the vax.

Basically the more vax you get it the more harm is causes – take his example of a peanut allergy. Young sufferers to peanut allergy (and it is an immune response too) are given more and more peanuts to become de-sensitized to the peanut allergen. This repeated vaxing is having the same effect, and making people more tolerant of the virus by the immune system not fighting it. This is very bad as covid is not the harmless peanut so switching off your immune system to covid could be disastrous. .

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I’m watching your link as I write. Very interesting though in parts over my head.

What I’m finding fascinating is both doctors have wryly referred to “those early treatments we can’t mention on this show 
 because they’re very contentious.” Invermectin?

Both are obviously credible people in the field, focussed only on the science. They’re just accepting that medical interventions they clearly believe are credible can’t even be mentioned (much less used) for political reasons.

Also interesting that we produced flu vaccines in response to epidemics in 1957 and 68 within 5 months. Also that those epidemics had an IFR of 0.5%

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Yes, Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Interesting. Thanks for the link Galeti, but I have sworn off watching anything on YT, which is a heavily censored mouthpiece of Big Tech and the woke left.

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Yes it’s censored which is why dr John is very cautious although you can pick up on his non-verbal communication! He doesn’t want to get taken down!!

Art C
Art C
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Good on you. To all of you out there: do NOT use Big Tech services! MAKE THE EFFORT. In the case of online videos, Rumble, Odysee, Vimeo & Bitchute are all good alternatives to YT. And if the video you want is NOT on one of the aforementioned platforms contact the content creator & request them to provide a YT alternative. I do it all the time.

Carmel Shortall
Carmel Shortall
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

‘A great article, but you sort of let down the wider point with this line:
“Most of us have done our bit”
But you haven’t done anything and that’s the hard point for Rutte and everyone else to accept.’
Yes! Absolutely!
You gave up your ‘freedom’ for a load of covid theatre cobblers and now that they’ve seen how easy it was, they’re not giving it back. That’s how it works.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago

After two years of this cowardly, panic-stricken nonsense, I think it’s finally time to admit that the tinfoil hat brigade was right from the off.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

Those of us with the tinfoil hats are very happy about that – now it is time for the inquiries into who was responsible, then the time for the courts.

Art C
Art C
2 years ago

If the author wasn’t an Amsterdam-based journalist she might know that “mainstream civic disobedience” already is a habit with very many of us who live in The Netherlands. It’s just not reported by the mainstream media. Also, her insinuation that Dutch vaccine sceptics who “make a lot of noise” are barely 11% of the population, based on the fact that “89.2% of the population is double jabbed”, is nonsense. These days, a very large number of vaccine sceptics are vaccinated. They were originally coerced, “nudged” or simply volunteered to get vaccinated in order to avoid the unpleasantness (encouraged by media smears) of being identified as one of “the unvaccinated”. But for several months now, the vast majority of people I meet across the country, from all walks of life, have been saying that they are thoroughly fed up with the diallng up & down of patently absurd restrictions & demands for endless vaccination “boosters” going forward. It’s clear that the vaccines are virtually useless. And the penny dropped some time ago that we are being led up the garden path. More importantly, there is a growing anger. Our constitution has been trampled-on. We see broken trust in our institutions, the lives of young people irreparably damaged, tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of small businesses bankrupted and the social fabric of our society wrecked. For what?
It’s time for a reckoning. Politicians, overpaid scientific advisors & certain media figures need to be held accountable for what has happened. And punished accordingly.

Last edited 2 years ago by Art C
Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
2 years ago

Of course the brothels are still open. Women (and kids) sold for sex are considered disposable, like used condoms.
How absolutely cruel and despicable.

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