Dutch toast 'better future' as Covid-hit cafes reopen

The Hague (AFP) –

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Dutch people flocked to cafe terraces Tuesday for their first drink in the sun for six months as the Netherlands became the latest European country to ease coronavirus measures.

The reopening of outside bars and terraces, as well as non-essential shops without appointments, came on the same day as the end of a curfew that sparked the nation's worst riots in decades.

"It's great to be here with my girlfriend and my friends. I think it feels great after six months being inside," Marvin Erhart, 26, said at a cafe on one of the main squares in The Hague.

The Netherlands is the latest in a series of European countries after Britain, Italy, Portugal and Switzerland that have started reopening as summer approaches and the effects of vaccination start to kick in.

The Dutch move comes despite a high daily caseload of coronavirus cases, with 8,713 reported on Wednesday, and an average of more than 7,700 a day during the past week.

In total the Netherlands has seen 1.47 million cases and 17,093 deaths, out of a population of 17 million.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte's government is gambling on the Netherlands stepping up its slow-starting vaccination programme, and the fact that most cases are now in less vulnerable younger people.

Excitement has been in the air for the reopening of cafe terraces, which can operate 12 pm to 6 pm, with a maximum of two people per socially-distanced table.

"It feels amazing to be back again," said Jonathan den Hoed, 25, another cafe patron in The Hague.

"It's a part of the Dutchies, to be outside on a terrace and to be with friends after work and to go out and have a nice drink, have something to eat."

- 'Woke up very excited' -

As elsewhere around the world, the Dutch government has been under pressure to ease restrictions and reopen a sector devastated by the pandemic.

Dutch police arrested 50 people in Amsterdam on the Kings Day national holiday on Tuesday as they broke up crowds of revellers.

The Netherlands has until recently been under six months of its strictest measures of the pandemic, having initially tried but failed to limit cases with an "intelligent lockdown" that was one of Europe's most relaxed.

The introduction of the night-time curfew in January was particularly unpopular, sparking four nights of rioting across Dutch cities.

Businesses have toasted Wednesday's easing of coronavirus measures.

"Today I woke up very excited, because today it's a little bit of a new start to a better future," said Sophia Kahtane, 31, a cafe manager in The Hague.

"Reservations are in, people are excited to come and dine and have a drink outside, legally, and not to be criticised by the police or people from the government."

The reopening is causing some worries, with the southern Dutch town of Maastricht asking Belgians not to cross the border, with their own terraces set to stay closed until May 8.

"Terraces will be packed everywhere in the Netherlands," said Kahtane. "It's a good day."