Dutch hospitality sector sues govt over Covid closures

The largest Dutch hospitality organisation said Monday it was suing the government over ongoing coronavirus measures that have forced bars, cafes and restaurants shut since mid-October.

Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his health deputy Hugo de Jonge are expected on Tuesday to announce a slight easing of a partial lockdown in the Netherlands, including the reopening of hair salons and some schools.

But a 9:00 pm to 4:30 am curfew is set to remain in place for another three weeks from early March — and an announcement on the partial reopening of hospitality’s food and drink sector was not on the cards, Dutch media reports said.

“We are very disappointed in the cabinet,” said Rober Willemsen, chairman of the Royal Horeca Netherlands hospitality group.

“We’ve tried up until the last moment to come together with a different viewpoint and formulate a strategy to see what may be possible, instead of keeping everything hermetically sealed,” he said in a statement.

“The situation is hopeless and time and again, entrepreneurs in the food and catering industry are being deprived of perspective,” he added.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic last year, the business-friendly Dutch government has given entrepreneurs in the hospitality sector substantial support.

But the help “did not cover fixed costs which are piling up”, Willemsen said.

“The compulsory closure is putting disproportionate pressure on the industry,” he added, with many facing bankruptcy.

The umbrella organisation, which claims to represent some 20,000 businesses and 255,000 employees, now wants judges to force government to allow hospitality businesses to reopen “as soon as possible”. 

It also wants compensation for financial damages.

A court date was not announced. 

It is not the first time Rutte’s government is facing legal action over its measures to combat the coronavirus.

Last week, the government appealed a lower court decision that ordered it to scrap the coronavirus curfew.

But the order, in place since January 23, is likely to stay as the government has pushed through a new law to reinstate it even if it loses the appeal.

That case was launched by Covid-sceptic group Virus Truth, which has organised a series of protests via social media against coronavirus restrictions.