In a scene reminiscent of carefree cafe life before coronavirus lockdown, Peter Bender reached across one of the outdoor tables at De Ooievaar bar and placed a cup of coffee and slice of apple pie in front of one of his guests
But the coffee went cold and the pie remained uneaten at the bar in Rotterdam's historic Delfshaven neighborhood.
With tough coronavirus measures shutting Dutch cafes and restaurants since mid-October, Bender's guests Tuesday were all white inflatable dummies dressed in T-shirts, wigs and large red noses. They were part of a protest that saw an unknown number of cafes across the country symbolically open their terraces amid growing opposition to the lockdown from hard-hit businesses.
“We’ve waited long enough, we still don’t see any perspective from the government,” said Bender. “We have a ludicrous action — today dolls are sitting here, next week it will be real guests. We’re really sick of it.”
Businesses that accept paying guests in breach of the lockdown risk a 4,000-euro ($4,800) fine.
Elsewhere, stores in one eastern village opened briefly in the morning and sex workers were planning a demonstration outside parliament in the afternoon.
The protests come amid growing lockdown fatigue not only in the Netherlands but across the Europe Union, where 531,000 people have died in the pandemic and governments are still attempting to rein in new infections while slowly ramping up the pace of vaccinations.
More than 1,000 people gathered in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, on Sunday demanding an end to pandemic restrictions that have left the tourism and hospitality sectors at a standstill for nearly four months.
The demonstration, which organizers called “Let’s take our lives back!”, was dispersed by police for violating pandemic rules forbidding public gatherings.
Marches to denounce COVID-19 restrictions also have been taking place in a scattered form across France. In January there was an authorized protest in the southern city of Perpignan in support of workers in the cultural sector that has been ravaged by closures.
The pandemic has taken a brutal economic toll in the Netherlands.
Turnover at the country's accommodation and food services sector shrank by an unprecedented 33.9% in 2020 due to the pandemic and lockdown measures, the national statistics office reported Monday. In the final quarter of the year, as the lockdown was tightened again after a summer of eased measures, cafes saw their turnover decline by 70.4% compared with the previous quarter.
Bar owners insist that they can reopen their terraces safely by enforcing social distancing and hygiene measures. They have been spurred into action in part by recent scenes of large crowds of people packed into city parks enjoying unseasonably warm weather and largely ignoring social distancing measures. Amsterdam authorities have repeatedly restricted access to one of the city's main parks because of overcrowding.
Sex workers are upset that they have been prevented from working while other “contact professions” such as hairdressers, beauty salons and masseurs have been allowed to reopen from Wednesday in what the government last week called a risky relaxation strategy that came despite infection numbers starting to edge higher recently.
Bender said it's time for the country's political leaders — who face a general election in two weeks — to take action to ease the lockdown.
“We're ready. It's two minutes before 12,” he said. “We want to open."
Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands. Justin Spike in Budapest contributed.
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