Dutch sex workers, cafe owners challenge COVID curbs

This follows Prime Minister Mark Rutte's announcement on Tuesday to relax some measures but to extend the country's controversial nightly curfew and maintain bans on sex work and on the hospitality industry.

FILE: The red-light district, known as De Wallen, in Amsterdam. De Wallen is the largest red-light district situated in the centre of Amsterdam and a major tourist attraction. Picture: AFP.

THE HAGUE - Dutch sex workers said on Thursday they would demonstrate next week against the continued closure of brothels under government COVID curbs while scores of restaurants and cafes vowed to reopen in defiance of a ban.

The challenges follow Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's announcement on Tuesday to relax some measures but to extend the country's controversial nightly curfew and maintain bans on sex work and on the hospitality industry.

Rutte said his government would allow hair salons, massage spas and some secondary schools to reopen next Wednesday.

But Rutte said prostitution, which is legal in the Netherlands, will remained curbed because "of the specific nature of the job, which means very close contact and possibility of virus transmission".

Sex workers, under a ban since early December, said they would gather outside parliament on Tuesday to make their voices heard.

"We are going to protest because we are the only contact profession now excluded by the ease in the government's measures," said sex worker Moira Mona, one of the demonstration's organisers.

"We have a strict hygiene protocol and we know, perhaps better than anybody, how to prevent virus transmission," she told AFP.

Meanwhile, at least 65 Dutch cafe and restaurant owners said they would open terraces on the same day in defiance of a government-ordered closure since mid-October, the NOS public broadcaster reported.

The announcement comes after recent warm and sunny weather saw thousands of people gather in parks - often contravening social distancing and other measures.

"Weekend after weekend we see crammed city parks. It's bizarre," said business owner Johan de Vos.

"We are upset about this, because it's an unregulated situation, whereas we can do it much better with a 1.5-metre social distancing rule, registration and supervision," he told the NOS.

The Royal Dutch Hospitality umbrella organisation it "understood the decision by some cafe and restaurant owners" even if unauthorised reopenings were not official policy.

"It's a clear signal to The Hague and one we fully support," it added in a statement mailed to AFP.

More than one million people have been infected with the coronavirus in the Netherlands since the start of the pandemic and some 15,400 people have died.

Government initially carried out a so-called "intelligent lockdown" policy, depending largely on citizens themselves to prevent the spread of the virus.

But it tightened measures during a second wave late last year and growing fears for new more infectious variants of the disease.

Download the Eyewitness News app to your iOS or Android device.