For over a hundred days now, the coronavirus has been governing the lives of Dutch people, keeping them away from friends and family, closing down the schools and offices and more or less confining them to their own homes.
But it seems under the strong leadership of Prime Minister Mark Rutte the Dutch people have persevered and the worst is over. There is a steady decline in the number of infections, deaths and hospitalizations, even after the first steps in reopening the country. From 11 May, hair and beauty salons were allowed to open, as well a daycares and primary schools. On 1 June, new set of relaxations occurred, with restaurants and cafes allowed to open their doors.
For Dutch people, summer is as much a time for celebration as Christmas, because summer means long, warm sunny days, barbeques in the backyard, refreshing drinks with friends and family on the outdoor terraces, relaxing on the beach, summer vacations and much more. Not all of this may be possible because of the pandemic, but at least now the Dutch can once again enjoy a meal with their family in their favorite restaurants or watch the sunset on the terraces by the canals while enjoying a drink.
However, this silver lining is not without its black cloud. The relaxation of rules on restaurants and cafes comes with some ifs and buts. For example:
- Restaurants and cafes can open, but indoors they can only allow up to 30 customers at a time, excluding staff, while maintaining a six feet distance between each person (expect people who live in the same household).
- There are no restrictions on the number of people on the terraces, as long as they keep 1.5 metres distance between them.
- People from the same household can sit together, but a maximum of two people from different households can sit together.
- Reservations are compulsory, at which point you will be asked whether you suffer any corona symptoms; although for outdoors seating you can simply report to the host.
There are around 23,000 restaurants and cafes in the Netherlands, 13,000 of which have terraces. With summer being in full bloom and indoor space only allowing for a maximum number of 30 people, it is safe to assume that most customers, after being cooped up in their houses for months, prefer to sit outside. Food service data company Datalinq calculates that all terraces together can seat about 700,000 people, without accounting for the required 1.5 meters distance. According to a post-corona crisis calculation by Misset Horeca, if everyone maintains a distance of 1.5 meters, the terraces can accommodate only about 100,000 people.
While establishments are allowed to temporarily extend their terrace space from 1 June to 15 October 2020, this is much easier said than done. For example, the streets have to be kept free for a width of at least 3.5 meters for emergency services, chairs and tables can only be set up on paved surfaces to protect green areas from being damaged, and a license has to be acquired for any terrace extension. These rules are just the tip of the iceberg that is the complex process of opening cafes.
Amsterdam faces much tougher times in easing the lockdown measures than other towns in the country. Mayor Femke Halsema said: “Rotterdam has nearly 200,000 fewer inhabitants, but 100 square kilometers more surface area, while our area consists for a quarter of water. Moreover, it has 3,000 catering establishments, and we have 8,000. We have an unlikely shortage of public space, so I urge you to be cautious.”
With the limited amount of space, the restrictions on the maximum number of allowed people, and requirement of reservations, some people will perhaps not be able to relax and enjoy themselves as much as they normally do. However, the first weeks after reopening showed that Dutch people flocked to the cafes and restaurants as usual, bringing much-needed life back into the cities. Nevertheless, the Dutch should remember that it is through restraint and abiding by the rules that we were able to curb the spreading of this fatal virus in our country, that is still causing havoc in many others. With a little more patience, we shall soon be able to return to life as we knew it.
Written by Priyanka Sharma