SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Officials in growing numbers of Dutch towns say they will not penalise shops that open to customers in protest at the coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Several local authorities have called for the government to relax the rules for retailers when it reviews the measures on Friday. Virologists have urged caution because of the rapidly rising number of infections caused by the Omicron variant, with nearly 30,000 people a day testing positive in the last week.
The number of patients in hospital has halved in the past month, but new admissions are no longer falling. Under the current rules non-essential shops can only serve customers on a ‘click and collect’ basis, handing over pre-ordered goods from a counter at the front door.
Essential shops such as supermarkets have to close at 8pm. Retailers in towns near the border say they are losing trade to competitors in Germany and Belgium, where high streets are bustling with shoppers.
In the Limburg town of Sittard several shops opened their doors this to customers until council officials stepped in on Wednesday afternoon. Around 20 shops, restaurants and cafés in the Achterhoek town of Didam also plan to welcome customers on Saturday.
‘It would be great if this campaign was rolled out nationwide,’ said Karin van der Velden of local business association Gastvrij Didam.
‘No longer responsible’
In Oude IJsselstreek, Gelderland, which borders the German town of Emmerich, mayor Otwin van Dijk has said he will not intervene if shops open up on Saturday in defiance of the rules.
Andries Heidema, the king’s commissioner for Overijssel, has written to prime minister Mark Rutte describing the lockdown rules as ‘no longer responsible’.
He said it was ‘no surprise’ that ‘support in society for the measures is ebbing away.’ Sybrand Buma, mayor of Leeuwarden, also called for a more balanced approach to the pandemic in a statement on the city council’s website this week ‘to consider under what conditions our society can re-open safely in the short term’.