Dutch people drank and danced to pumping techno music Wednesday in the final minutes before all bars, restaurants and cannabis “coffeeshops” closed as part of a partial coronavirus lockdown.
Many of the revellers who flocked to terrace cafes in a main square in The Hague said that they backed the measures, which took effect at 10:00 pm (2000 GMT), but that they wanted to party first.
“It’s the last night before the lockdown, the last time to party. It’s a special night for us,” house painter Simon Karelse, 19, told AFP in Plein, the main nightlife area in The Hague.
Karelse said the new coronavirus rules were “good. It’s also for my grandparents, so it’s important for us. I have trust in the government, they have a vision where to go, and I trust them.”
After months when the Netherlands apparently got away with some of Europe’s laxest regulations, Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Tuesday announced that the country would go into semi-lockdown, its strictest measures since March.
Virus cases hit a record of more than 7,000 on Tuesday, making the Netherlands the country with the third highest infection rate compared to its population, after Belgium and the Czech republic.
In Plein square, one cafe had set up a huge marquee where dozens of people, all closely packed together, jumped up and down to a thumping dance music soundtrack beneath pink lights.
Huge cheers went up as someone shouted out “Ain’t no party like an alcoholic party” over the sound system.
– ‘Bad feelings’ –
Emerging from the tent, DJ Dena, 21, said the crowds were in high spirits because “it’s the last evening… we have enjoyment for the last night.”
“It’s a shame… we hope it’s just four weeks but I have bad feelings,” he said, adding that people in creative industries “have no job left if there’s three or four weeks to survive.”
Rutte has said the partial lockdown — under which mask-wearing has been made compulsory in indoor public spaces, but schools remain open — will be reviewed after two weeks, but is expected to last at least four.
In a quiet street around the corner from Plein, one of the Netherlands’ famed “coffeeshops” was doing some final, albeit quiet business selling cannabis before it also had to close.
Like restaurants, coffeeshops can sell their wares for takeaway only, but must stop at 8:00 pm. Supermarkets and shops are meanwhile barred from selling alcohol after the same time.
As the 10:00 pm shut-off neared on Wednesday, police trucks rolled through the square and officers entered several bars to speak to the owners. Two police on horseback also patrolled the area.
The atmosphere was mostly peaceful apart from a few chants against the police.
“My friend and I decided to go to the cafe to have a nice time, because we don’t know how long this will last,” said Dana Kim, 21, a Korean design student who has been studying in the Netherlands for last three years.
“There are way more people out here like us than there usually are on a Wednesday evening.”
But Kim said the Dutch partial lockdown was “a bit too much”, and said the Netherlands’ handling of the virus compared unfavourably with her home country.
“I think it could have been handled better, if they were all wearing masks in public places and all that. Because in Korea where I’m from, places are not closed, but we are keeping social distance and all that.”
by Danny KEMP