Lead­ers of the highly glob­alised Nether­lands fear a sec­ond lock­down

The Nether­lands was able to con­tain Covid with­out the need of a se­vere shut­down but its re­turn is caus­ing alarm,

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Front Page - Se­nay Boz­tas

In the colour­ful cen­tre of Dam Square, a stream of tourists and well-to-do lo­cals nor­mally buzzes in and out of Am­s­ter­dam’s most pres­ti­gious depart­ment store. But be­hind the doors of De Bi­jenkorf – “the bee­hive” – there is no honey (or money) be­ing made. The store is the high­est-pro­file vic­tim of strict new rules mean­ing busi­nesses linked with a num­ber of coro­n­avirus in­fec­tions can be shut for two weeks.

The store had to close one day ear­lier this month af­ter 10 of its 1,400 em­ploy­ees tested pos­i­tive for Covid. That came as a sur­prise to Gio­vanni Co­lauto, the chief ex­ec­u­tive, as only a day ear­lier he had been talk­ing to the gov­ern­ment’s GGD public health body about how staff should change face masks three times a day as well as lim­it­ing cus­tomer num­bers, en­sur­ing so­cial dis­tanc­ing, and other safety mea­sures such as Plex­i­glas screens.

“Since the re­open­ing of the stores, we have done every­thing we can to cre­ate the safest pos­si­ble shop­ping and work­ing en­vi­ron­ment,” he says. “I re­gret the de­ci­sion to tem­po­rar­ily close the store. This has a ma­jor im­pact for the Bi­jenkorf and the city.”

Al­though the Nether­lands shut a hand­ful of ho­tels and cafés thought to be break­ing rules to limit coro­n­avirus, De Bi­jenkorf ’s clo­sure came as a sur­prise to oth­ers. Since March, the coun­try’s ap­proach has been char­ac­terised by a light touch, ask­ing cit­i­zens to work from home, keep 1.5 me­tres from oth­ers and self-iso­late if ill – with the larger aim of bal­anc­ing the na­tion’s health with a on­cethriv­ing econ­omy.

From mid-March, Mark Rutte, the prime min­is­ter, ap­pealed largely to com­mon sense, start­ing what he called an “in­tel­li­gent” lock­down. Schools, bars and restau­rants were closed and there were lim­its on num­bers meet­ing and €390 (£350) fines, but the Nether­lands im­posed only about 15,000 penal­ties – roughly one for ev­ery 50 is­sued in France.

Mean­while, busi­nesses were el­i­gi­ble for sup­port cov­er­ing 90pc of wages in ex­change for not mak­ing re­dun­dan­cies, with pay­outs for the self-em­ployed and other tax de­fer­rals

‘Since the re­open­ing of the stores, we have done every­thing we can to cre­ate the safest pos­si­ble en­vi­ron­ment for shop­ping or work­ing’

and mea­sures cost­ing the gov­ern­ment €20bn and count­ing.

Pri­mary schools re­sumed in May, so­cial and arts venues, and even broth­els re­opened from July, and the CPB Nether­lands Bureau for Eco­nomic Pol­icy Anal­y­sis now ex­pects the econ­omy to shrink by 5pc in 2020 – a mild hit com­pared with the 10pc pre­dicted UK GDP drop.

Mean­while, the Nether­lands has reg­is­tered 6,175 deaths from coro­n­avirus, putting it 21st in the world (al­though in­clud­ing ex­cess deaths, the real toll is likely to be more than 10,164 ac­cord­ing to Statis­tics Nether­lands).

But ear­lier this month, coro­n­avirus in­fec­tions in­creased by 52pc in a week, the Nether­lands en­tered the UK list of quar­an­tine des­ti­na­tions and Rutte re­turned from hol­i­day to threaten more se­vere mea­sures. In Rot­ter­dam and Am­s­ter­dam in­fec­tions are ris­ing the fastest – es­pe­cially among young peo­ple; busi­nesses linked to large out­breaks are be­ing shut and face masks are oblig­a­tory where large num­bers of peo­ple are found.

All this is in­tended to pre­serve a rel­a­tively pos­i­tive eco­nomic pic­ture, ac­cord­ing to econ­o­mist Mathijs Bouman. “We see a lot of in­di­ca­tors bounc­ing back, but on the other hand a small sec­ond wave has ma­te­ri­alised a bit ear­lier than ex­pected and [gov­ern­ment] pol­icy is try­ing not to have a new lock­down, to save the econ­omy,” he says.

Public trust in politics and in­sti­tu­tions rose dur­ing the shut­down, and sup­port for Rutte’s VVD party spiked in June, but now public ac­cep­tance is wear­ing thin in some groups, es­pe­cially the 20 to 40-yearolds rep­re­sent­ing al­most half of new in­fec­tions. Red light dis­trict res­i­dent Ab Gi­etelink and a protest group called Viruswaarh­eid (“virus truth”) failed to over­turn the Am­s­ter­dam face mask rul­ing in court this week. “Face masks, 1.5 me­tre dis­tance and strange hy­giene rules are an out­dated way of think­ing and have a huge so­cial and eco­nomic ef­fect.”

Shop union INre­tail claims that masks “dra­mat­i­cally” dis­cour­age trade in shop­ping streets, and in par­lia­ment too, the four-party gov­ern­ment has come in for sharp crit­i­cism. Last week, Hugo de Jonge, the health min­is­ter, had to back-pedal on mak­ing quar­an­tine oblig­a­tory, while op­po­si­tion par­ties GroenLinks and Geert Wilders’ Party for Free­dom crit­i­cised the gov­ern­ment for re­fus­ing nurses a pay rise.

“Un­for­tu­nately the Dutch gov­ern­ment is mak­ing a mess of how to deal with the coro­n­avirus,” Wilders says. “The min­is­ter of health­care

‘Face masks, 1.5 me­tre dis­tance and strange hy­giene rules are an out­dated way of think­ing and have a huge so­cial and eco­nomic ef­fect’

pro­posed com­pul­sory quar­an­tine but re­tracted it in one day, public health bu­reaus who have to track and trace peo­ple are still un­der­staffed [and] schools are un­pre­pared about the cor­rect ven­ti­la­tion. Chaos.”

Al­though Rutte has taken a sterner tone, warn­ing of a “dan­ger­ous rise” in in­fec­tions and a “col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity” to pre­vent a sec­ond lock­down, it is likely that po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sion will only grow, with gen­eral elec­tions com­ing next March.

Mean­while, as gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies peter out, un­em­ploy­ment and bank­rupt­cies are set to rise and the Nether­lands will also be af­fected by the global slow­down. “Even though the do­mes­tic econ­omy has done bet­ter than com­pa­ra­ble coun­tries, be­ing more or less the most glob­alised coun­try in the world,” says Bouman, “the big hit will come from the in­ter­na­tional econ­omy”.

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