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Explainer: What's going on with anti-lockdown protests in the Netherlands?

Around 250 people were arrested following protests across the Netherlands yesterday over a new curfew.

Protesters in Eindhoven in the Netherlands yesterday.
Protesters in Eindhoven in the Netherlands yesterday.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

PROTESTERS CLASHED WITH police in the Netherlands over the weekend after a new curfew was imposed in an attempt to curb the spread of Covid-19. 

This isn’t the first time anti-lockdown protesters have taken to the streets, however this weekend the protests intensified with 250 arrested, a Covid-19 testing centre set alight and businesses looted.

Let’s take a look at what is happening in the Netherlands at the moment with Covid-19. 

What happened at the weekend?

Anti-lockdown protesters took to the streets on Saturday and Sunday in a number of Dutch cities. 

A 9pm to 4.30am curfew kicked in on late on Saturday and is set to last until at least 10 February. Anyone found to be in violation faces a €95 fine. 

This is the country’s first curfew since World War II. 

The protests were condemned by the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who described them as “criminal violence”.

Around 250 people were arrested by police following the incident. Police used water cannons and tear gas during the demonstrations in Amsterdam, Eindhoven and other towns yesterday, according to local media. 

Hundreds gathered on Sunday to oppose the curfew. The protests degenerated into clashes with police and looting in cities across the country. 

Police used a water cannon and dogs in Amsterdam to tackle the protesters, public television NOS reported.

In the southern city of Eindhoven, police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of several hundred, regional television Omroep Brabant reported. At least 30 people were arrested there, according to police.

A number of vehicles were burned and businesses at Eindhoven’s central train station were also looted, media reports said.

A Covid-19 testing centre was set on fire Saturday evening in the village of Urk in the north of the Netherlands. 

featureimage In this image screenshotted from a video, a Covid-19 testing center is seen after being set on fire in Urk on Saturday. Source: Pro News via AP

Mark Rutte described the protests as “unacceptable”.

“All normal people will regard this with horror,” the prime minister told reporters today. 

He also condemned the “idiots” who pelted a hospital in the town of Enschede with stones.

Eindhoven mayor John Jorritsma likened the situation to “civil war” and called for the army to be sent in.

Other countries also saw anti-lockdown protests take place this weekend. 

In Denmark, two men were arrested on Saturday night for burning an effigy of Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen at an anti-restriction protest, while thousands marched against virus measures in Spanish capital Madrid.

Have similar protests happened before?

Similar protests against Covid-19 restrictions took place during the summer. Euronews reported in June that protesters in the Hague demonstrated against the government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis. 

On 17 January, thousands of people also gathered for an unauthorised protest in Amsterdam against the national lockdown, according to Reuters

netherlands-protests-in-eindhoven Protesters in Eindhoven yesterday. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

What is the Covid-19 situation like in the Netherlands?

In total, there have been almost 950,000 Covid-19 cases confirmed in the country and more than 13,500 deaths. 

In a recent seven-day period from 13 to 19 January, the Netherlands reported 38,776 new virus infections and 608 deaths. 

The Netherlands is under its toughest measures since the start of the pandemic, with bars and restaurants having closed in October, and schools and non-essential shops shut since December.

Dutch parliament approved the nighttime curfew last week, after insisting it should start half an hour later than originally planned, despite criticism from some lawmakers.

People are also banned from having more than one other person in their homes. 

Earlier in the pandemic, the Netherlands was hesitant to impose harsh Covid-19 restrictions similar to the ones in place across most of Europe. 

For much of last year it endorsed an “intelligent lockdown” that was more relaxed than other countries.

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But it has been hit hard by the second and third waves of the disease and has introduced these measures that are almost as tough as those in neighbouring Germany and Belgium.

For example, the country only introduced the mandatory wearing of masks at the start of December last year in all public buildings, education facilities, on public transport and in contact professions. 

It was “strongly advised” at the end of September that anyone aged 13 or over should wear non-medical face coverings in indoor spaces like shops, restaurants, petrol stations and contact professions. 

The Netherlands was also the last country in the European Union to administer its first Covid-19 vaccine. A nursing home worker became the first person to receive the jab on 6 January. 

Rutte said he was “really disappointed” by the slow rollout. The prime minister and his entire Cabinet resigned on 15 January to take political responsibility for a scandal involving investigations into child welfare payments that incorrectly labelled thousands of parents as fraudsters. 

The government is currently acting in a caretaker role until elections are held on 17 March.

With reporting by AFP and Press Association

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